I wrote this partwork political comment in the run up to the UK General Election in May 2005. It was intended to be satirical, funny, and thought-provoking. It shows that our system of government is hopelessly out of date, ineffective and misrepresentative, and the only way we'll ever be able to get things done will be to stage a coup or revolution, because why should the fat-cat wankers in charge change a system that works so well for them, and is grossly unfair to anyone who is not them?
Anyway - it was good practice for the NaNoWriMo, which I entered for the first time in 2005, after first learning about it in 2004.
UPDATED EVERY MONDAY, WEDNESDAY & FRIDAY
We all know the democratic system of "One Man, One Vote", right?
Here is the story of what happens when someone takes it literally -
Watch in horrified fascination as Britain is taken quietly into benign dictatorship (which some might say is a step or three up from where we are now), and the politicians begin to listen - but who are they listening to?
Sir Humphrey Appleby was never so controlling.
Read the story of how one man could shape Britain's future, and turn it back into a country to be reckoned with.
You may laugh.
With the final instalment due on the eve of the General Election in May 2005, this story starts just after it finishes, and it might get weirder than that!
(By the way, if you do feel that we need a change in government, this site probably suggested a good way of doing it.)
Time - 21:57
"How are things looking?"
"How are things looking?"
"Depends which things you mean."
The first speaker was in a smart suit, sitting at a smart desk, with a TV camera pointed at him, and a sound boom just out of shot above his head. The second speaker was in jeans and T-shirt, screwdriver held between his teeth, pencil stuck behind his ear, and doing complicated things with wires in the cabinet he was crouching in front of.
"We are on in three minutes," said the first speaker, with just a hint of testiness creeping into his normally calm and even voice - but then, some people would try anyone's patience, "I'm sure I don't need to tell you of the problems that will arise if we are not on in three minutes."
"So? What do you want to know?"
"What is our operational status?"
"Jamming signal ready to go on all frequencies in all formats. We have piggyback transmission capability on all stations. Access to all transmitters guaranteed, we going on the air, and no-one's going to take us off it."
"Then why are you fiddling around in that cabinet?"
"It's the aircon unit - it's getting a bit warm in here, don't you think?"
The man at the desk sighed. Engineers, he thought, they're just not normal!
Time - 21:58
"I think it's about time to close up," said the polling station supervisor, checking his watch. "Polls close at ten, another election farce done with."
"Farce?" asked one of the invigilators.
The supervisor spun round to face him. "Think about it, will you? In a constituency of 50,000 people, only, what, twelve thousand? have bothered to vote. If that turn-out is a national average, then less than a third of the voting population has actually voted. Of those twelve thousand people, because we are slap bang in the middle of affluent nowhere, ten thousand of them will have voted Tory, for no better reason than they've always voted Tory. The seat will remain blue, yet the government will remain red, because in the surrounding constituencies, the same proportion of voters voted Labour. But the neighbouring constituencies can only muster 50,000 voters between them. So out of five constituencies, because four have a Labour majority, and with the most votes cast in the fifth constituency, and that constituency declaring Tory, the government is Labour again."
"So? That's how it's always worked."
"Yeah! And the ten thousand voters who voted Tory here, don't seem to outweigh the fifteen-hundred Labour voters ten miles that way, plus the two thousand Labour voters ten miles over there, plus the twenty-three-hundred Labour voters fifteen miles in that direction, plus the twelve-hundred Labour voters eight miles in that direction!" The supervisor's arms stabbed out in the directions of the neighbouring constituencies, making him look like someone was giving him electric shocks.
The invigilator spent a few moments working this out. "Yeah, does seem a bit odd, seven thousand votes counting more than ten thousand votes, doesn't it?"
The supervisor nodded. He sighed. "Why did you become an invigilator, son?" he asked.
The younger man shrugged. "Good pay, not much work to do - a day off proper work, basically."
The supervisor ran a hand through what was left of his hair. "When I volunteered for my first election, I thought I was overseeing the process of democracy, shepherding the country into a new era, as the people made their choice. And then That Bloody Woman won."
"Er - Who?"
The supervisor raised his eyes to Heaven, muttered "God save us from the terminally ignorant," and began a short potted history of British democracy in action - starting with a definition of the word.
Time - 21:59
Tony Blair was relaxing at his house in Sedgefield - for a change. He'd finished campaigning with a few brief speeches and photo calls earlier that day, and had gone out to vote at the local polling station late afternoon. Cherie accompanied him, of course (not the children, they were all elsewhere, for various reasons), and there had been the usual press scum - sorry scrum - waiting to record the impressive moment of his vote. Cherie, with awful timing, he mused, had gone to answer a call of nature, so he sat back in his easy chair with a vodka and tonic in one hand, watching BBC1 as the election came to an end, to almost certainly confirm him as the country's PM for the next four years again.
The coverage of the election on BBC2 was always more light-hearted than on BBC1 - or any TV channel come to that. The big two could do the serious stuff, Channel 4 would do the human interest as the results declared, and Channel 5 would basically either copy ITV or ignore the whole thing. Sometimes both. No-one really cared about or noticed the satellite or digital channels, they weren't widespread enough, really, to do coverage justice. Nevertheless, SkyNews and so on gave a credible attempt at giving a monkeys - which was more than most of the British public.
The frontman chosen this time was, for no readily apparent reason, Johnny Vaughan. He had his cue-cards and microphone in his hand, his earpiece in his ear, and a line-of-sight view of a huge screen that had a line-of-sight view of Big Ben. He'd been babbling inanities and exchanging sound-bites with the audience about the election on air for the last four minutes and forty-seven seconds, and now it was time for the cameras to cut away from him and focus on the screen showing Big Ben.
"And any moment now..." he burbled, anxious not to have any dead air, but thankfully the first chimes of the clock cut him off.
Bing bong bing bong
Bing bong bing bong
Bing bong bing bong
Bing bong bing bong
"And the election..."
Time - 22:00
"... is over!"
"How right he is," said the man in the smart suit at the smart desk. He nodded significantly to the engineer, who had temporarily stopped fiddling with the aircon. The engineer pressed a button.
"Jamming - on! Signal penetrating the networks!"
"Penetration complete!" said another engineer from the other side of the studio, sat in front of a bank of monitors.
If she was a man, at that age, thought the man in the suit, I wouldn't put it past her that was meant to be a dirty joke.
"Our signal going out now," said the first engineer, pressing a sequence of buttons. The man in the suit looked into the camera and put on a calm, reassuring smile.
"We have terrestrial TV," reported the second engineer.
The man in the suit jacked up his smile a notch.
"Radio is ours!" reported another engineer.
"We have all digital channels!"
"Local satellite transmissions are ours!"
The man in the smart suit at the smart desk with a TV camera pointing at him, and a sound boom just out of shot above his head, opened his mouth, and, in that calm, reassuring voice of his, desperately trying not to corpse, said, "Ladies and gentlemen, please do not adjust your sets."
Most of the engineers failed not to corpse.
"We are broadcasting to you on all digital, terrestrial and satellite, TV and radio channels, and also have a couple of webcasts running. There is no getting away from me for the next few minutes, I'm afraid, not even by turning off, because it will definitely be in the morning papers after this.
"I am addressing you on behalf of the True Democracy Party - I am, in fact, their leader - and right now, senior representatives of my party are talking to all the relevant people about the future governance of this country."
Tony Blair waited on tenterhooks for the ringing to stop. His vodka and tonic was soaking unnoticed into his slippers, the carpet, the chair, and the crotch of his trousers. The phone was picked up. "He..." he began.
"Sod off! I don't care who you are, I'm as baffled as you are, every fucking phone in this fucking building has just gone off, and I haven't got a fucking clue what's going the fuck on! As soon as I find out, I won't bother telling you, 'cos you're not fucking important enough!"
The phone was slammed down.
Tony took the phone away from his ear and stared at it for a few seconds, as if it might provide a hint. He shook himself and dived for his contacts book. He thumbed through it until he found the number he was looking for, and tried calling his communications chief again.
"We at the True Democracy Party think it is time for a change in how this country elects its' leaders, and runs its' affairs. For instance, for the past four years, a group of no more than twenty people has been dictating what sixty million people have to do, based on the choice a mere ten million of them made in May 2001. These twenty people have made you pay vastly more Council Tax, have ignored the most numerous demonstrations this country has ever seen, and have taken us into an illegal war. And that's not mentioning curtailing the human rights and basic liberties of some people who happen to disagree with our way of life, or the fact that we would be rapidly turning into a constantly-monitored police state if they were allowed to continue."
Tony Blair held the landline to his right ear, and his mobile to his left ear. Both were ringing different people, and both were only offering the engaged signal. He may have felt better for knowing that one of the people he was trying to ring was simultaneously trying to ring him, but he didn't.
"How many of you actually went out and voted today? I bet it was less than the twenty million that voted last time. In a country where roughly forty million people are entitled to vote, less than half of you actually have. None of us in the True Democracy Party believe that gives a ruler sufficient authority to rule. When only one sixth of the total population votes for someone to govern them, and another sixth vote for several someone elses to do so, one third of the population realised it didn't matter who they voted for because they're all lying unscrupulous bastards and didn't bother, and the remaining third weren't allowed to vote. Is that any way to elect a leader? Really? Can you honestly look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and say, 'my life is run by someone that only one in six people chose to do so, and I'm glad'? Of course not.
"And what about the archaic electoral system itself? One large constituency returning a majority for one Party, is cancelled out by just two smaller constituencies returning a majority for another, even if the total votes are less. The first Party to have 350 majorities returned, gets to form a government. Wouldn't it be fairer if each constituency elected a number of MPs based on the number of votes they got? So that the two small constituencies would provide six MPs between them, and the large constituency would provide six on its' own. It'll create more jobs, for a start."
Cherie Blair came back down into the sitting room. "Tony, wha..."
Tony lunged past her, mobile glued to his ear, struggling into a jacket, laptop and briefcase in hands. He burst out the front door, dropping the laptop briefly, and scrambled into the waiting car.
"Party HQ, go!" he told the napping driver.
The driver checked the clock. "Bit soon, isn't it, sir?"
"Go! And turn the radio on!"
Cherie Blair watched as the car sped off, then turned and saw what was going on on the TV. She found a notepad, sat down, and began taking notes.
By coincidence, a Welshman and a Scotsman also chose that moment to speed off in chauffeured cars to their respective party HQs as well.
"We apparently live in a democracy, but if you think about what I've just told you, it's hard to believe isn't it? One in eighty-five thousand of you is a parliamentary representative; in other words, at a Manchester United match with a capacity crowd, the only person in the entire stadium who has any say in how things are done is - no joke intended - the referee. One in six of you voted for our recent leaders - only one in three of you bothered to vote at all. Less than twenty per cent of people in this country asked to be led by Tony Blair. And the other eighty per cent plus suffered.
"Do you know where the word democracy comes from? From democratia, Latin, derived from the Greek, demos, 'the people'. The whole means 'the will of the people', and yet it appears that we have let less than a majority of us decide who leads us. That needs to change. And so it is changing. Now. As of this minute."
The man in the smart suit at the smart table, with the eyes of close to forty million people on him (and the ears of at least three others listening furiously), looked at the chief engineer, lurking somewhere behind the camera. He had a mobile phone to his ear. After a few seconds he raised his thumb and presented it to the man at the table twice.
"I have just been informed," he continued, "that I have the full authority of the Crown in my next actions. And in order for you to understand fully, I will explain them.
"As of ten o'clock tonight, less than ten minutes ago, this nation did not have a government. There is some doubt as to the exact time when this country ceased to have a government, so we decided that the close of voting would be as fair a time as any. Under existing legislation, there could not be another government until a Party has been found to have won a majority of seats, by count of votes. The leader of that party would then be asked by the Crown to form a new government - it is her country, after all, she has the power to say who is to govern it. Or not, as the case may be.
"In the space of those few hours between close of voting and the Crown requesting someone to form a new government, the leadership of the country is, as it were, vacant. Just as a house is empty between the last owners moving out, and the new owners moving in. In the time between the two events, squatters can move in. And that is what the True Democracy Party is doing - moving in.
"As soon as I began my address to you, senior representatives of the Party asked the Crown's permission to form a new government without a count of votes, on the condition that policy decisions will be put to the general population regularly. The matter had already been discussed with Her Majesty privately, on several previous occasions, and I have just been informed that permission to form a government has been granted.
"I therefore declare the True Democracy Party to be the ruling democratic body of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island, and myself, John Tucker, to be the Prime Minister of said ruling body."
This statement caused one fit of apoplexy, one heart attack, and one faint. The drivers of the relevant cars changed their destinations to the nearest hospital.
"Have no fear about your votes - they will be counted. If you don't like us, you'll get the government you voted for tonight in three months time. We are on three months trial. That is written down in our Party Constitution, available to read on our website, truedemocracy-dot-gov-dot-youkay, and at local libraries as from tomorrow. If you do like us, then sorry, you're stuck with us for five years.
"As for the True Democracy of it, our plan is this: You decide.
"We will send out questionnaires, asking you what you think are the five most important issues this country needs to deal with. There will be a whole list of them, don't worry, but you only have to tick five of them. We will tally up the results, and we will deal with them in order of the importance you have given them. One week, or one month, depending on how big it is, per issue. And they will be dealt with - effectively, definitely, and promptly. We have teams of researches on standby to find out the nature of each issue, several likely solutions, and the pros and cons of each. Well, actually, at the moment we are rather short-staffed, so if you want a job, pop down to your local town hall or equivalent and sign up. If research isn't your thing, we'll have lots more openings shortly, you can count on that.
"The party leadership - that is, me, and the cabinet - will then evaluate all the information the researchers have found, and place in order each of the likely solutions that are presented, so that the number one solution is the one that provides the greatest benefit all round. You will then be asked to vote on which solution you prefer - we'll give you a brief rundown of which solution will do what with the voting form. The votes will be counted on the Friday, the majority decision will become policy, and the policy will be implemented on the Monday. With any luck.
"It will only be natural for there to be primitive means of voicing your opinion, and other teething troubles, in the early days, but please bear with us, and things will improve.
"The first thing that we're going to do, is change the electoral system. First-past-the-post is out, proportional representation is in. Every 20,000 people will have a parliamentary representative. Each constituency will return not one, but two, three, four or even five MPs. A large constituency could return two Conservative MPs, one Liberal, one Green, and one Labour. Or it could return four Conservatives and one Green. It will be based entirely on how you vote. Of course, I very much doubt the parties concerned will be able to raise enough surplus candidates in the three month trial period, so if we are removed from office, you'll get an FPP government. But the next election will be Proportional Representation."
The chief engineer looked up from where he was back to fiddling with the aircon again, and tapped his watch.
"Well," said John Tucker, PM, "it appears I've talked long enough. You'll have got the gist of things from what I've said, and if you haven't, there'll be a piece in every national newspaper tomorrow. We'd return you to the scheduled programming now, but we've probably rendered tonight's normal programming a bit irrelevant. I think we can manage an episode of 'Yes Minister' or something, though, until the TV execs think of something else to put on.
"I'll leave you with this brief summing-up, then. Things have changed. You will have more say in how the country is run. You decide what we do. I decide whether we do it. We have gone from one system of democracy to another. We now work under the system of One Man, One Vote."
"I am the Man, I have the Vote."
"With apologies to Havelock Vetinari," muttered an engineer under her breath as the transmission ended.
It was next morning. Early next morning. Panicked phone-calls had been going on all night, from, to, and between, the three major Parties, bits of the Civil Service, the police, the army, some very expensive lawyers, and even some members of the Royal family.
No-one, however, had tried ringing the True Democracy Party. Not even to threaten them with the expensive lawyers, the police or the army.
"How very odd," remarked John Tucker, PM, to his cabinet, on the matter, as they all met at Number 10 Downing Street at 7:30am. A few of them had been there for the last half hour, beginning to oversee the transition from Labour to True Democracy. The police had received orders from the highest authority, that until further notice, the True Democracy Party was entitled to be there. And now the new cabinet, all the members of which had been sworn in in record time by Her Majesty as Ministers of the Privy Council (a technicality only to give them actual legal powers until such time as the expensive lawyers gave up or found a solution), met in a small, comfortably furnished room, downstairs at Number 10 Downing Street, out of the way of all the panic.
"Hmm, yes, I thought so too," agreed Bob Wellhall. "I mean, our number's on the website, they could have rung us - if only to question our legal right to do what we did."
"Well, there was a bit of a buzz at Buck House just before we left last night," Peter Donalds reported, "it was probably someone who thought they were important asking Queen Liz whether she'd gone out of her tiny mind."
"Yes, how did it go at the Palace last night?" John asked, "I think it's something we should know."
"Oh, fairly well," Peter replied. He was a tall man, mid-forties, under attack from a pot belly and baldness, wearing a tweed suit and carrying a fully-armed Sussex accent. A country squire, he had been chosen to be the leader of the "toffs committee" - the group of TDP representatives who would talk to people with titles, airs, and graces on something approaching equal terms. The TDP inner circle did actually have a fully-fledged Viscount in its' ranks, but he declined to be on the "toffs committee" on the grounds of him not wanting to speak to "all those riff-raff".
"We were there by discreet invitation of Phil the Greek - I suppose so that if anything went wrong it could be passed off as just another of his gaffs - and we were in unofficial audience watching Channel 4 at the appropriate time. As soon as you began your broadcast, we formally asked the question, and presented the summary document. Liz and Charley-boy both read it, agreed to let us run things on the pre-agreed conditions set out in the document, and that was it, basically."
"Never much one for narrative, were you?" asked John.
"Never really had the time for it, boss."
"Quite. Speaking of time; Bob - have your boys had time to rifle through things for accurate economy figures and so on? Or did the Labour whips hide them successfully?"
Bob Wellhall, as possessor of a First in Mathematics and a Two-One in Accountancy, and one-time member of the TA, was both the TDP's Chancellor, and Head of Security. "Don't worry, sir, my weekend warriors know their business. They arrived at all the relevant offices with pass keys just after ten last night. They waited until you declared yourself PM, then knocked on the doors."
"Who did they surprise, exactly?"
"Here, next door, Bank of England, Treasury Office, DTI, Westminster, Home Office, Cabinet Office, and Labour Party HQ, just to be on the safe side." He rattled them off on his fingers as he spoke.
"Did they have any trouble anywhere? And are they still here?"
"Been and gone in most places, sir," Bob replied. "Had a bit of trouble getting in to Labour HQ, but they managed it eventually, and I didn't really expect them to get anything there anyway."
"Good!" John said. "Sir Michael, who can we expect to be doing what later today?"
"Haven't the foggiest," replied the Viscount. Owner of six thousand acres somewhere in Lincolnshire (mostly worked out coal mines), he was the oldest of the TDP inner circle. He'd sat in the House of Lords for some time, but volunteered to go when the reforms came in in the late 90s. Well, at 63 with arthritis, sitting on even a comfy leather bench for several hours a day is not something you actively pursue if you can help it. He was technically the TDP's political expert, in that he had the longest and most senior political service behind him, but he rarely used his expertise. His mind was more taken up with inveigling the technical bods to help set up an intercontinental video-gaming system so he could play virtual tennis against his son in Australia in real time - on a real court. "Probably get a representative from the Lords first, wanting to know what the Hell we're playing at - we can expect them between ten and lunch, probably. Have to wait 'til after lunch for the politicos to come hammering at the door, with the standard threats and weasels. Probably bring lawyers with them, and if they're trying to be smart, they'll come together - you know, united against the incomers, sort of thing. Best have a line ready to H.M. just in case we need regal authority to get them to back off."
"Right. That makes sense. I take it the Lords' petition will be a formality?"
"More than likely - not much they could actually do, anyhow. Best bet is to ask them where it's written down that we can't do this, and tell them not to worry we're not going to be messing with them much."
"And we'll have to give the Commons' representatives a more detailed 'quote us chapter and verse, please', I suppose?"
"Right! Not that they can do anything to us either, but yesterday they could have, and they'll have trouble coming to terms with that."
John grinned. "Yesterday, powerful men whose word was law. Today, just another nobody. Let's see how they like it, for a change." There were amused mumblings of agreement. "So - press?"
The TDP's Press Secretary, Daniel Short, looked up from his palmpilot, where he had been taking minutes. There was a tape recorder running on a table, but Daniel was in the habit of being thorough. "Could turn up at any time. I suggest we tell all and sundry to sod off and read the papers, we'll be answering questions this afternoon - after the Commons Three have been."
"What about our manifesto and constitution? Did they go out alright?"
"The constitutions were sent in bundles to Local Authorities by courier - they can distribute them to libraries in their jurisdictions. I took the manifestos round to the papers myself. And my assistant took copies to the BBC and ITN to put on their websites - not newscasts, we didn't let them do that."
"Operations started at 10:05 - Wapping will have got the proofs just before midnight, BBC and ITN a little earlier. The furthest Local Authorities will just be getting their constitutions about now, as well."
"Good, good. Well, then, I think we'd better start..." John Tucker tailed off. "Can anyone else hear that?"
The cabinet became aware of a low sort of rumbling sound, slowly getting louder. Bob's phone went off.
"Hello? What? Already? Okay, I'll tell him." He turned to John. "We appear to have our first mob of the day," he told him.
"You've got a man on the roof?" Bob nodded. "Well, that was quick. Must be locals, no-one else would have had time. Bob, just go and make sure the police don't let them through the gate - but keep access clear, we'll need it. Peter, would you call the Met and make sure they have enough men in the area, please? Oh, and Daniel, could you make sure there are going to be a couple of burger vans parked outside all day? We'll probably need them."
Bob left, and Daniel and Peter both reached for their phones. John stood up. "I'll need some blu-tak, a large sheet of paper, and a marker pen."
Five minutes later, a poster appeared in a window visible from Whitehall. It read, "To the public and press: Go away! We won't tell you anything until your former leaders have visited!"
It was less than twenty minutes later. People had been talking to each other throughout the night to try and arrange this - at least, once they stopped trying to talk to other people, they started talking to each other. Actually, it was quite short notice - once it had been realised that nothing could be done about the new status quo, at least in the immediate future, the people who arranged this meeting had had to be quite quick about it. In other words, Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy had given up on working separately to dislodge the TDP, and had decided to work together at just after six o'clock. The location was a low-grade hotel in north-west London, and the cars that drew up were decidedly nondescript. Two were black, one was dark blue, and they all had five occupants - a Party Leader, a lawyer, a security man, a Campaign Chief, and a Press Secretary. A quiet word was had with the manager, and the lounge was discreetly closed to the public until further notice.
"Can anyone actually believe what is happening?" asked Tony Blair.
"It's not something you would expect to happen in this country, certainly," replied Michael Howard.
"It's probably something we should have expected at some point," Charles Kennedy opined.
"What have you tried?" (TB)
"Nothing." (CK) "I actually listened to their address," he continued when the other two had stopped gibbering. "I had it recorded, and watched it twice. They may actually have a point. Remember all the fuss after the 2001 election, about the low turnout, and how few people had actually voted for you, Tony? It's obviously built up, hasn't it, and there's not a lot we can do about it now."
"How can you say that? It's patently illegal! It's a coup d'etat!"
"It is, it is! It's illegal, it's immoral, it's wrong, and, and, it's stealing!" Tony, the hardest hit out of the three, was starting to get a little manic.
"Yes, they mentioned those terms in their address as well. Only they used them about the Iraq war, the terrorist threat, the ID card issue, and your famous 'presidential' style of leadership."
"All valid points, Tony."
"I thought we agreed, no point-scoring."
"Sorry - old habits."
"Anyway," Charles continued, "we are, at the moment, for all intents and purposes, legally out of power. I intend to leave it to the lawyers to think of a way out of this, and that will take time. Three months, probably."
"And in three months..."
"If the people don't like them, they give up!"
"Exactly. No-one is going to be able to make such a difference in three months that the general public will think they're actually doing something. It takes time to turn things around - a week may be a long time in politics, but three months is nothing in economic terms, and economic terms are what the man in the street notices."
"So, what you're saying is, we let them foul it up, and then come in and pick up the pieces?"
"Something along those lines, yes. They're not going to be able to totally wreck things in three months, just like they're not going to be able to turn us into a superpower in three months - but the public will blame them for not delivering, and by their own rules, they'll be voted out of power."
"By their own rules?"
"Yes - they said it was on their website," Michael reminded them.
"Erm," the Labour lawyer spoke up. "Have we actually seen this commitment to an electoral referendum in three months? Has anyone actually looked at the website?"
The three Press Secretaries hit the internet button on their laptops simultaneously. While they were sorting out who should use the one available phone line and whether the other two should use their mobiles, the Labour lawyer had another thought.
"Mr Kennedy - you said the public would blame the True Democracy Party for not delivering. Not delivering what, exactly?"
"They haven't made any. I've read a transcript of their address, and can't find anywhere where they state their policies."
"It's not their policies they won't deliver on, I'm quite sure of that. No, people with the skill and planning ability to successfully interrupt all media broadcasts, and not let anyone find out outside their organisation, will be able to get their weekly vote system going. That's the only policy they have - let the public decide what happens next."
"So, how will they not deliver?"
"One week per problem? One week to solve the immigration problem with no appeals, no outcry, no complications? I don't think so!"
"Yes, but what if their ratings system says the public are more interested in getting hunting back? They'll just repeal the Act and start licensing again."
"But they'll know that in three months time, whoever comes after will just reverse their decision."
"We could reverse all their decisions."
"That may not be wise - they may come up with a solution none of us have thought of."
"And if they don't?"
"At the moment, it's not our problem, is it?"
"And when it is?"
"When it is, there are tried and tested systems in place to sort it out."
The three Party Leaders nodded, and went to have a look at the TDP's constitution and manifesto. There were comments.
"They're going to pass legislation that no leader or cabinet member remains in power for more than one term!"
"They're going to set up proportional representation!"
"They're lowering the voting age."
"Complete transparency of the government? They're mad!"
"They're going to give us a cup of tea?"
"Where does it say that?"
"Just there! 'The leaders of any other political Party will be welcome to air their views in the same manner as the rest of the voting public. However, their greater experience in some matters will get them an invitation to discuss the matter in question at Ten Downing Street over a cup of tea'!"
"There are now some very strange people running the country."
The three leaders left the laptop and sat down again.
"So - when shall we go for our first cup of tea?"
"I've been told they've already started the moving-in process. They were in at the crack of dawn, measuring!"
"Didn't I hear something about midnight raids on government buildings?"
"Yes - their private army of ninja accountants, or something similarly ghastly. They took copies of every financial and budgetary record they could get their hands on - and they got their hands on all of them."
"All of them?"
"Every last single one."
"Boy, will they be in for a headache!"
"So - when do we go to Number Ten for tea and biscuits then?"
"Sirs?" The Tory Press Secretary. "The Upper House are sending a delegation at half past ten, purely as formality. The general press are expected not long after, but I doubt they'll answer any questions until after we've visited."
The Lib-Dem security man interrupted. "There are reports of an angry mob at the Downing Street gates. It'll probably get bigger as the day goes on."
"Right. So, eleven o'clock then?"
The Tory PS shook his head. "No. I recommend after the votes have come in. Wait until we see who wins the real election, that way, no-one'll have the chance to make a promise we can't keep, and be called on it."
"But the mob?"
"Mobs reach a certain size, then calm down. There's not a lot they can do to a set of cast-iron gates. They'll calm down, disperse a bit, thin out at the edges. By the time mid afternoon comes round, they'll be there just to see what happens - no-one'll be in the mood for throwing things by then."
"Right." Michael Howard stood up. "Well, in that case, I'd better be getting back to party headquarters. Can't be seen together, can we? Might create the wrong impression."
"Before you leave, Michael, I think we should discuss what we're going to say when we get to Number Ten."
"We'll say what Charles suggested - we'll play along with them for now, but don't expect any favours in three months when you're out on your ear!"
"You sure that'll work?"
"It's what's going to happen, why not?"
Two hours later.
"Yes, Martin. I'm outside Number Ten Downing Street, inside the gates, which have just opened to admit a car. Now, it may be the expected delegation from the House of Lords, but under these circumstances, they'd probably be have a pennant on each wing with the Lord Chancellor's Seal, as something of this nature requires the highest levels of representation from the House. The car has drawn up now, and someone's getting out - it looks like they're expected, because the door to Number Ten is opening. Can't quite see who it is at the moment... My God! It's Charles Kennedy!"
"Mr Kennedy, glad you made it." John Tucker proffered his hand immediately after he closed the famous black door.
"So am I, in one piece, at any rate."
"Good, good. I have to tell you we weren't expecting you until at least after lunchtime, certainly after the Lords' delegation. Er, we're in here, for now. Excuse the mess, you know how tricky moving house can be!"
"Yes, quite. Mr... Tucker, is it?"
"John Tucker, yes."
"Well, uh, John. The reason I'm here now, on my own, is this. I'll be quite blunt, as from your address last night, I take you to be a plain-speaking man who doesn't hold with beating around the bush."
"You take correctly. Tea?"
"Heh - er, no, thank you. The reason I'm here - well, to be honest, no-one, myself included, expects the Liberal Democrats to win this election."
"Ah, and you're here to offer political support, in the knowledge that you have nothing to lose by doing so, because you seriously doubt that you'll be in any position to do anything about it if the public kicks us out in three months, yes?"
"Basically, yes, I'm afraid. Speaking realistically, the Liberal Democrat Party has been basically no more than a buffer zone between the two other Parties for the past seventy-odd years."
"Although, technically, the Lib-Dems haven't existed for half that time."
"Well, true - our predecessors and political ancestors, then. So, with that in mind, I feel safe in offering my wholehearted support to your Party. I think it's a very welcome breath of fresh air in a rather stifled arena - and of course, in three months, should you or any of your members wish to join a Party with a future, you'd be very welcome."
"Why, what'll happen in three months?"
"The public are more than likely to vote you out of power, Mr. Tucker."
"Yes, they are. Mr. Kennedy, you have been blunt with me, let me be blunt with you. I like you. You are not some idiot with his head so far up his arse he can see his own tonsils, nor are you a blinkered idiot with a poor track record and an even worse perception of reality."
"Is that not a bit slanderous on Mr. Blair and Mr. Howard?"
"Well, if they want to sue me, they'll have to sue the other thirty million people plus in this country who say it at least once a month as well! Anyway - you are, yourself, a refreshing breath of fresh air in a somewhat stifled arena. However, one breath of fresh air is not enough. People have lost all trust in politics and politicians. They see only endless debates, discussions, revisions, committees - they see no action, no firm action. And, if by some miracle, firm action does happen, it has a bad press reaction, which prompts the press office to go into overdrive telling people how marvellous it actually is, and which is promptly dismissed as spin, not worth a puff of marsh-gas!
"However - this is no longer politics. This is now democracy. I take it you heard me define democracy last night?"
"You taped it? Excellent! Glad someone did. Now then, democracy, the will of the people. Classicists will probably be able to find fault with the definition, but 'the will of the people' is about as far as Joe Bloggs in the pub is going to get when he tries wading through the dictionary. Democracy is going to be returned to politics. The public, Joe Bloggs in the pub, Jane Doe in the street, Dirty Mac in the strip joint - they are all going to be directly involved in the process of governing the country. If they can be arsed. That's going to be the biggest problem, to be honest, actually motivating people to get off their arses and vote on what they want us to deal with. But! And it is a big but - we will actually do something with their vote! You think in three months the public will vote us out, because we won't be seen to be having an effect, yes?"
"Something like that, yes."
"Right. Right. Okay then, let me ask you a question. What is it, that you, personally, as an individual, want to change about the country? What could the government change to make your life just a tiny bit easier?"
The Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party thought about this for a while. "I suppose, and it is a bit shallow, that I could do with less speed cameras around."
Charles Kennedy looked nonplussed for a second. "I don't follow."
"You were being a man in the street, just then. The man in the street doesn't give a monkeys about big issues that take months to change! He wants something that can be seen to be done within a week. You want less speed cameras - so do twenty million other people. Our analysts have worked out that speed cameras will be in the top three of the responses to the initial survey. Fortunately, speed cameras are linked to road safety, so that gives us a cue to introduce cheaper and more accessible public transport, create jobs at Longbridge, promote bicycle use, hike road tax on petrol vehicles - and all those link in with the environment and congestion as well! You watch - within three months, half the speed cameras will be gone, buses and trains will suddenly become a more attractive option, and road accidents will have dropped a small but noticeable amount."
"I'll admit, that sounds impressive, and your reasoning is sound - but I don't buy it."
"That's because you have spent too long as a talker, and not enough as a do-er!"
"Well, okay then - what do your analysts say the other two in the top three responses will be?"
"Council Tax and either America or Europe."
"America or Europe are pretty big issues."
"I didn't say the man in the street was completely incapable of thinking of the big things - just that he likes to pay someone else to deal with them. Namely, the politicians. With Europe and America, it's probably going to be a choice of either 'sod off' or 'we love you', for either of them! Personally I'm not in favour of the latter for the former, and only the former for the latter as long as they've got an idiot running the place, but that could be forever."
"And Council Tax?"
"Needs to be re-thought, definitely. Not sure what we'll actually do about it yet, other than re-thinking it, but, hey, it's only our first day! Will I be seeing you this afternoon, with the other two?"
"What? Oh, yes, very probably. I'd prefer you not to mention our little chat, though."
"They'll have probably worked it out that you'd do something like this anyway, so I wouldn't worry too much if I do. Are you sure I can't offer you a cup of tea?"
"Erm - no, no, thank you. I've said what I came to say, you've obviously said what you wanted to say, and so I'd better get out of your way before the Lords' delegation gets here."
"How remarkably perceptive of you. Yes, by all means, escape while you still can. Call again, with your friends, and don't forget - watch out for the disappearing speed camera!"
John Tucker shut the front door on Charles Kennedy. He turned to see Sir Michael watching him.
"Do you believe him?"
"Oh - yes, I think so. He doesn't have anything to lose, and frankly, neither have we by believing him. For the other two though - I think I'd trust them about as far as I could throw them."
"What are you going to say to them this afternoon?"
"That they're redundant. For the time being, at any rate. We'll let them play in the Commons, but they'll have jack-all power and won't be able to do anything. Have you got the written constitution ready yet?"
"Final draft on computer now. Just need you to confirm it, then we can print it, and you and H.M. can sign it over lunch at the palace."
"Got everything in it mentioned on the website?"
"Apart from the cup of tea and other pleasantries, yes."
"Three months, no parliament for the duration, PR for all future elections, votes at 15, and no chance of Maggie T ever again?"
"It's all in."
"Excellent! Make sure Peter's ready to deal with the Lords' delegation when they arrive, would you? I want to be able to concentrate on this."
"Peter, are you up?"
"I am now." Peter Donalds peered at the bedside clock. It read 05:19. "Do you know what time it is, John?"
"Not entirely. Don't tell me you're asleep - how can you sleep at a time like this?"
"John - it is 5:19 on Monday morning. Can't it wait?"
"No! Have you seen the news?"
"I'll give you three guesses."
"There's been a rail crash at Haywards Heath. Twenty chemical tankers derailed."
Peter Donalds sat bolt upright. "My God! That's less than twenty miles from here! When did it happen?"
"Breaking news on the BBC news channel - they're just getting the helicopters there."
"Chemical tankers, you said? What was in them?"
"Nothing harmful, as far as I know. At least, they haven't said anything about it being harmful. But 300,000 gallons of whatever isn't going to do anything any good."
"Three hundred thousand gallons?" Peter wedged the handset under his chin as he struggled into a shirt.
"Somewhere in the region of 15,000 gallons in each tanker, yes."
"Where exactly is it? Where did it happen?"
"Ooh, they're just telling us now - low grade ammonia. You may want to take a gas mask with you."
"Ammonia? They don't think that's dangerous?"
"There doesn't appear to be much spillage, actually, just a high-speed derailment and lots of torn-up track and so on."
"Thank God for that. Where did it happen?"
"A few miles south of Haywards Heath. I take it you're going to recce the situation?"
"A high-speed derailment and chemical spillage in my on back yard? Of course I'm going to recce it! You'd better get someone to scare up the RTSE and the SRA, oh and someone from Network Rail, we'll be wanting to talk to them later today, won't we?"
"We will, yes. I've got my PA looking up numbers, and Bob's clearing the decks at Number Ten. It's difficult though, everybody seems to be asleep."
"That's because it's very early morning immediately after the weekend, John. Someone may have explained the concepts of 'time-off' and 'sleep' to you at some point, I don't know if you were listening."
"I just don't understand how anyone can get any rest with all that's been going on lately. I mean, we've claimed squatters' rights on the Government, virtually wiped out the democratic processes, told the Three Daft Monkeys where to stick it, and started the whole thing from scratch! How anyone could sleep with all the excitement, I don't know!"
"John - some friendly advice: Drink less coffee." Peter put the phone down and sighed. He put on his shoes, leaned over to his wife, gave her a quick peck on the cheek and promised to be back before midnight, then went downstairs. He put a couple of slices of bread in the toaster, found his wellies, put on a thick jacket, got the keys to the land rover, grabbed the toast, and left.
At 3:00pm on Friday afternoon, the Three Daft Monkeys (Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy) had arrived at Number Ten Downing Street in a rather more off-kilter state of mind than when they met that morning. They left in an even greater state of imbalance. The country now had a written constitution, and it had been signed by John Tucker and Her Majesty the Queen at 1:23pm that day. The election results had only been finalised at 2:17pm, and it had been a close-run thing. They were given copies of the Constitution, and told that they basically had no jobs now. Parliament was to be disbanded - where was the need for it at the moment? The entire decision-making process for the country lay firstly in the hands of the populace, and secondly in the hands of twenty-six men and nine women who had swiftly relocated to Whitehall that morning. They were told that they could keep on coming to the Commons to debate things, but for the next three months at least, it would be at their own expense, and have no effect at all whatsoever, yes, even less effect than it did before. As a parting gesture, they had been asked what issues they would like to be put on the initial survey. John Tucker had smiled and said, "Yes, that's exactly what we thought you'd say," then had Peter show them out. A statement to the Press had followed, which was responded to by statements from the Three Daft Monkeys, which in turn was followed up by a TDP Press Conference, now that everybody had some intelligent questions to ask. The proofs of the initial survey were sent to the printers that evening, and the surveys were all printed, packaged, and despatched no later than 9:30 Saturday morning. So until the surveys came back, no later than Friday, the members of the TDP had very little to do. (Apart from finding out who took down the poster in the window and sold it on eBay for £750.)
Until now. With a high-speed derailment of a train full of dangerous chemicals on a main line, the TDP had a chance to make a pre-emptive strike at one of the items they'd put on the survey.
Time - 05:35
Daniel Short calls the BBC newsroom and tells them to expect a short statement in about two hours, can they send someone down to record it? He then repeats the process with ITN.
Time - 06:14
Peter Donalds makes his initial report from the crash site, after talking to crash investigators, the BTP, and permanent way workers.
Time - 07:10
Representatives - very senior representatives - from the Strategic Rail Authority, the Rail Transport Safety Executive and Network Rail arrive at Ten Downing Street for a meeting with an unnecessarily alert John Tucker. They have a short talk, during which they are basically told they are not doing their jobs properly, pull your collective fingers out or face the consequences.
Time - 07:13
Peter Donalds makes a second report from the crash site, with more information from knowledgeable parties. John Tucker is interrupted to be given the report.
Time - 07:28
John Tucker and the representatives from the SRA, RTSE and NR, are ushered by Daniel Short into a small press room at Number Ten. Once sat down, John Tucker essentially repeats the talk he's just given, adding, "our representative who has looked at the crash site, and talked to people on the scene who know what they are talking about, has let us know that the informed opinion as to the cause of the crash is poor maintenance of the track and pointwork. This, to me, just serves as further proof that the system of franchise operators is not working. We will definitely be dealing with this problem, and since we have no other problems to deal with at the moment, we'll start later this morning."
Time - 07:53
After a brief Q&A session, the representatives of Network Rail, the RTSE and the SRA, are shown out of Number Ten. The Press leave immediately afterwards.
Time - 08:00
John Tucker has breakfast.
(A bedside phone in Sedgefield)
"There's been a rail crash in Sussex. The TDP have already issued a statement in conjunction with the RTSE, SRA and Network Rail. They made it pretty clear that rail franchises are out."
"Who's speaking?" Tony Blair turned his head and squinted at his alarm clock. It read 08:16. "And why are you calling me so early?"
"It's Alan Milburn, Mr. Blair, and eight o'clock's not that early."
"It is when you want a lie-in," replied Tony. He hoicked himself into a sitting position. "Okay. What do you want me to do about it?"
"Sir? You're the Labour Leader - there will be a debate about it, and we need to have a standpoint."
"In case it slipped past you, Alan, the election was hijacked, and I am no longer Prime Minister."
"But there will still be debates..."
"And they won't matter, and I quote 'a rat's arse'. Parliament is suspended until the TDP get chucked out in three months."
There was a nervous chuckle from the other end of the phone line. "They can't seriously mean that though, sir, can they?"
"I sent everyone a memo about my meeting with Tucker right after the Press Statement on Friday. I take it you missed them all?"
"I think I must have asleep, sir."
"Have you been asleep all weekend as well?"
"Hardly, sir! I'm quite recovered from Thursday night. Will you be coming in today?"
Something that had been mildly puzzling Tony kicked his brain into gear. "Alan, we've been on first name terms for years - why have you suddenly started calling me 'sir'?"
"I thought you may have been a little upset, Terry."
Tony blinked. It was too early on this particular morning. Besides, there wasn't any alcohol left in the house. "Alright, Alan. Try and find out what the other Parties are doing, and call me again in an hour."
"Bye." Tony put the phone down, and turned to his wife. "I think Alan's losing his marbles."
"He called me Terry without noticing, and seems to think that parliament is still active."
"He's probably a little stressed. Wouldn't anyone be?"
"Yes. At least Charles won't have quite so much to worry about, anyway."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Go back to sleep." He flopped down.
Monday morning came and went. Three people who, four days ago, had been quite important people, met for lunch in a nondescript restaurant in Harrow. There were only three large men in dark suits and dark glasses with them this time.
"So, Charles, how are you taking it?" asked Michael.
"Rather like I imagine Tony was taking Gareth Southgate missing in 96," Charles Kennedy replied.
"Well, on the bright side, Ryan Giggs has never been subjected to that."
"I think the Tories are a bit more successful than the Welsh football team, if you're going to extend the metaphor that far."
"I don't have that much interest in Rugby, I'm afraid."
The third member of the trio came in. "Sorry about that, Cherie on the phone, had to finish."
"Has she been working on a solution to our predicaments?"
"It's not really her field. She's passed on the notes she made on Thursday night, along with a few bits of information she's dredged up from God-knows-where, to a top-flight American lawyer she's on good terms with."
"So - neither of you fancied going into work today?"
"What would be the point? We can't do anything."
"Half of our Party's are still coming to terms with it, a third of them can't be bothered at the best of times, and the rest want to join the TDP!"
"I told my lot to wait and see what Tucker does in the next couple of days, then to come in on Wednesday and have a good rant."
A waiter, looking rather nervous and puzzled, approached their table. He mumbled, "Menus", slapped three of said objects down, and ran for it.
"Looks like someone's drawn the short straw."
"You know, we could be eating somewhere better than this."
"There's still a lot of Press interest in us. I for one could do with a few days peace and quiet."
"Agreed. I rather fancy the duck, anyone else want duck?"
"Duck sounds good."
"Yes, duck's okay with me."
"How are your campaign staff taking it all?"
There was a slight edge to Tony's voice that made Michael ask, "how do you mean?"
"Well, I think, and this is strictly between us three at the moment, you understand, I think that Alan Milburn has lost the plot slightly."
"'Lost the plot slightly'?"
"He doesn't seem to have taken in the events of Thursday night or Friday at all. He phoned me this morning about the rail crash, and seemed to think that parliament was still going strong."
"So? You said yourself, half the Party's still coming to terms with it."
"Yes, but - he was at HQ when I dropped in there, and he's acting as if it was just a normal election that we happened to lose. And he keeps calling me Terry."
"Best to keep an eye on him."
"Aye - don't let him use any sharp implements for a day or two."
"It's probably just shock, he'll get over it."
Later that afternoon, John Tucker was in the Cabinet Office, addressing the newly Assembled Hordes of problem solvers. All eighteen of them.
"Right - you've all seen the news reports, but to summarise, a train loaded with a fairly dangerous chemical has been derailed at high speed due to poor track maintenance. This is the fifth major accident of similar type in four years. That's rather a lot. Something must be done to change the status quo so that it doesn't happen again. It is your job to find and present me with options for what that change might be. You have carte blanche in this matter, as to the means of gathering information from whom. You can use any resources you can get your hands on, you can ask anyone questions, including government departments, and they have to answer to your satisfaction, or face criminal proceedings. You have until five o'clock Thursday. Anything will be considered. Oh, and all your options must be laid out on no more than two sides of A4, with a summary of what it is, list of pros and cons, and any extra details you may think are necessary. Right - good luck, and off you go!"
Some of the Horde got up and filed out. Some stayed put, thinking, others moved together into groups.
John reached for his mobile phone. "Daniel? What are you working on right now?"
"Script for your broadcast this evening - you know, urging people to return the surveys ASAP, because without them, we won't know what they want us to deal with."
"Good. Listen, I was thinking - it might be an idea to show people that we really are doing things."
"Yeah, okay!" Daniel then asked the question asked by sensible men every day, when told to arrange something not-quite usual by their superiors. "How?"
John Tucker, on the other hand, always had a plan of some sort. "Get a camera crew following our researchers, get some footage of them working on the rail franchise problem. We can add a bit in to the broadcast tonight. Maybe let the Beeb make a documentary out of it."
"We'll need a damn sight more footage than can be got in a day!"
"Follow them all week, then, we only need a few seconds and a couple of lines about our 'keen and eager researchers on the job' to add to the broadcast."
"Okay, I'll see what I can arrange. Oh - Sir Michael was looking for you."
"What did he want?"
"Didn't say. I told him you were in the Cabinet Office, he said he'd wait for you in the Commons."
"Why the Commons?"
"Not a clue. Bye!"
As he was about to leave, John noticed something. He looked at one of the researchers a bit more carefully. "Hey, you!"
"Calm down - and you don't have to call me 'sir', John will do. Weren't you in the TV studio on Thursday night?"
"Yes sir," she replied. "I was monitoring radio coverage."
"I thought I'd seen you before. Enjoy it?"
"Oh, it was a right laugh, sir."
"My speech, or the episode of 'Yes Minister'?"
"The reactions I was imagining around the country."
"You ever thought of going into politics yourself?"
"Yeah, right! As if I'd be any good!"
"Don't knock yourself! You never know, in this new order, your contribution might actually be effective. It certainly will be this week."
"Thanks, er, John."
"No problem. Well, good luck, everybody, and get researching!" He left.
John Tucker entered the debating chamber of the House of Commons for the first time. Sir Michael was the only person in the huge room.
"Sir Michael? Daniel said you were looking for me."
The Viscount nodded. He waited until John was standing next to him in the middle of the floor. "Well?" he asked.
"Yes, it is, isn't it?"
"I never thought I'd see either House empty in the middle of Session."
"Well, there's not much point in anyone being here right now, is there, really."
"How does it feel?"
"How does what feel?"
"To be in here for the first time?"
"It's..." John paused. He savoured the moment. "Not really all that different to any other empty room."
Sir Michael smiled. "Exactly!" He laughed and clapped John on the back. "It's my first time in here, too. Bloody grave! I dropped in on the Lords before coming here - they're all having a right giggle about us taking the carpet out from under the Three Daft Monkeys."
John chuckled. "I think I can see their viewpoint."
Sir Michael scowled. "Green! Is that any colour to furnish a room in? It's so cold!"
"Warmer in the Lords?"
"Damn right. Nice warm red in the Lords, easier on the eye too."
"How do colour-blind people tell them apart?"
"How do people with red-green colour-blindness tell them apart?"
"Benches are more impressive in the Lords."
It was Thursday lunchtime, one week since the election, and in a small cafe in Rickmansworth, three men were meeting for lunch.
"Bit of a greasy spoon, isn't it?"
"Well you said you wanted somewhere out of the way, where no-one would ever guess we'd be going."
"Yes, but - Rickmansworth?"
"Nothing wrong with Rickmansworth."
"I know, it's just that... Well - Rickmansworth."
The three of them had been meeting every lunchtime since Monday, every time somewhere different.
"I've been invited to Number Ten later this afternoon, I don't know about you chaps?"
"Three o'clock. Some chap called Bob Wellhall."
"Yes, me too."
"And me. Wonder what it's about?"
"They probably want to ask us what we'd do about the railways over a cup of tea!"
All three laughed at that. That particular passage from the TDP's constitution had been found by a lot of people, and it had appeared in lots of places as a sort of catchphrase. The Sun had already dubbed the TDP "The (Mrs) Doyle Party".
"Did you catch the RTSE's statement on Tuesday morning? Obviously trying to get in Tucker's good books."
"Really? I thought they were more trying to establish neutrality?"
"I've got a transcript of it here," Charles said, taking a piece of folded paper from his inside jacket pocket, and knocking the plastic sauce bottle over with his elbow.
"You have? Why?"
"Oh, you never know when these things may come in handy," came Charles' voice from below table level. He surfaced with the errant sauce bottle. "Read it, then."
Michael put on his glasses and began to read aloud. "The Rail Transport Safety Executive fully supports the current administration in its' efforts to help to solve the continuing problem of many rail franchise operators seemingly putting profit before safety, and Network Rail's use of outside contractors for track maintenance work. We have long been of the opinion that the current situation is untenable in the long-term, but as yet, no better system of operations readily presents itself. In order to bring our national railway system up to the standards of many European countries, wholesale track maintenance work is needed across the system, but the funds, manpower and co-operation necessary between the franchise operators and Network Rail has not been forthcoming. We sincerely hope that the necessary improvements can be brought about swiftly and with success, without impairing the operating efficiency of the network."
"When was the last time you travelled by train, Tony?"
"Actually, I came down by train today."
"Oh yes. It's quicker and less tiring than by car."
"I'd have thought you were staying somewhere in London during the week. I am."
"Yes, well, you weren't evicted from your official residence at five minutes notice."
"Oy! Are you free gonna order anyfin', or wot?"
"Oh, er, yes..."
"Ehm - egg and chips three times, please!"
“By the way, how’s Alan?”
“Not too good. He hasn’t really improved - he’s started hoarding biros now. Won’t touch fountain pens or pencils, just biros. He’s definitely in some sort of shock.”
Bob Wellhall entered John Tucker's private office carrying a faded red leather case, a sheaf of papers, and with one sheet of A4 prominently alone in his other hand. It was slightly scrunched from when he'd turned the handle.
"I've got the economic figures you wanted, John."
"Good." A look of puzzlement crossed John's face briefly. "Which ones?"
"Overall government spending?"
"Ah, yes, those! Thank you." Bob put the single sheet of A4 down in front of the PM, and placed the other papers on the desk. He held on to the red case. "In brief?"
"As you like it on that piece of paper, in detail on this lot here."
"And in your case?"
"Fiendishly cunning treasury projections that say four different things at once. I'm still working on them."
"Okay. To summarise?"
"The country is running at a slight deficit..."
"Two per cent-ish."
"And in money?"
"About three billion pounds."
"That's a lot of money."
"A manageable amount of 'a lot of money', though."
"Yes. Go on?"
"I've found you some spending money to play with - you know, throw at the researchers, pay for the voting forms, that sort of thing."
"Good. Where from?"
"MP's salaries," Bob replied with an evil grin. "There's close to fifteen-hundred MPs or Opposition Members salaried at quite high rates of pay. I've put them all on half-pay for the next three months."
"And after three months?"
"Well, if they're still not doing anything, it's cut completely."
"You mean, if we're still in power."
"Yes. Don't you think we'll be retained?"
"It's difficult to say. Before the weekend I'd have said we're here for the next four years - but since the election went so close that way, I'd hesitate to put money on us in the three-month referendum."
"The British public is a fickle entity - they might give us a chance, or they might prefer to take a chance on their hard-slogged voting of last week."
"Well, anyway, you've got thirty-five million to play with for three months."
"That seems a bit much for just cutting MPs back to half-pay."
"I cut Senior Civil Service salaries as well. I put them on parity with government salaries, and there's a whole lot more Senior Civil Service than MPs."
"Parity to the new government salaries?"
"Yes! You don't think I'd be daft enough to leave them with parity of the old government?"
"Just checking, Bob, just checking. Out of interest, how much are we getting?"
"You're on two grand a week. Me, Peter, Arthur, David, Thomas, Michelle, the other Peter, and Daisy are on fifteen-hundred a week," Bob named the Home Secretary, the Deputy PM, the Foreign Minister, the Education Minister, the Defence Minister, the Environment Minister, and the Health Minister, "the rest of the cabinet are on twelve-fifty a week, any MPs are now on seven-fifty a week, Opposition Members five hundred a week, and full-time Councillors at three-fifty a week."
"That still seems rather well paid."
"I thought it might help to give people a remunerative incentive to go into politics."
"Ah. Good thinking. Let's hope it doesn't only attract the greedy and ambitious."
"I've arranged for it to be reviewed by an independent body one week before any general election is called - that should discourage any money-grubbers."
"And with a four-week period between calling an election and there being one, do you think that'll be enough time?"
"It should be, shouldn't it?"
"Yes." John was already scanning the A4 sheet. "I see you're changing income tax rates?"
Bob retrieved the sheaf of papers he'd put down earlier and thumbed through it. "Yes, I've put in more grades based on income, and put a cap on annual salary changes."
"Will corporations stand for that?"
"Oh, they'll find ways round it with bonuses, I've no doubt, but that'll have to wait until we deal with the fat-cat problem."
"Mmm. Okay, details?"
"Less than ten grand a year is fifteen per cent. Ten to fourteen nine-nine-nine is twenty-two per cent. Fifteen to twenty nine-nine-nine a year is twenty-eight per cent, twenty-one thou to twenty-five nine-nine-nine is thirty-three per cent, twenty-six to thirty-eight nine-nine-nine is thirty-eight per cent, thirty-nine to fifty-one nine-nine-nine is forty-five per cent, fifty-two to one-oh-three nine-nine-nine will be fifty-two per cent, and one-oh-four plus is going to be sixty per cent."
"And those would be cumulative, I take it? What would someone on sixteen grand a year be taxed?"
"Ten grand at fifteen per cent, five grand at twenty-two per cent, and one grand at twenty-eight per cent, that's, uh, fifteen-hundred, eleven-hundred, two-eighty, twenty-six hundred, two thousand eight-eighty."
“Doesn’t sound an awful lot.”
“There’s NI on top of that, but I’m cutting it a bit.”
"I see. I note that most of us are in the higher tax bands."
"The responsibilities of power."
"Sometimes by just one pound. Anything else?"
"Not really - most other changes will have to wait until we deal with an issue. I'm holding a meeting with the heads of all Parties that had an MP in the last session this afternoon. Most of them can make it. I'll tell them about their wage cut then, and pass it on the Civil Service as well."
"Nothing like spreading a few headaches, is there?"
After the meeting with the Party Leaders that afternoon, Bob was back in John's office.
"They seemed to take that well - even the bit about back-dating the change to last Friday."
"Good. Any threats of lawyers or Press?"
"Only from the BNP."
"Ah, Nick Griffin. We really should think of something to keep him quiet permanently, don't want him coming back in the new term and trying to be heard. In fact, he'll probably make life difficult for us in the near future, won't he? We'll definitely have to do something. What did you say to him?"
"I told him to shut up or fuck off, and if he fucked off, him and his entire party would be completely removed from any government payroll at every level."
"Did he stay?"
"Damn! What about the others?"
"They nodded and hummed and haahed and so on, and agreed it was a sensible move, then left to tell their members. I don't think any of them are going to make a fuss, it's not as if we've cut them off completely without notice."
"Yes, it's almost like they're kept on on half-pay while the company goes into liquidation, isn't it?"
"Maybe not the best metaphor to use, but it suffices."
"Better tell Daniel to release a statement saying we've saved millions by putting them on half-pay, get some brownie points."
"Good idea, I'll..."
The engineer who was now a government researcher came in with a few sheets of paper. "Er - I know it's not five yet, but I've got the reports from the research teams about the railways?"
"Ah, yes. Come in, er, Penny, isn't it? Thank you, Bob, go and talk to Daniel."
The young woman came in. "Actually, it's, er, Jenny, sir," she told him.
"Jenny! Sorry - what's your last name?"
"Lancaster. That would be why, then. And you don't have to call me 'sir', remember?"
"Sorry, si... John."
He beckoned her nearer the desk. "Well come on then! How many are there?"
"Four - most of them pretty similar, and requiring the merging of two or more related bodies. Copies are being taken to the DPM and Transport Minister right now."
"Arthur and Leslie. Right. Are copies going to Bob as well?"
"He only needs to see the final choice, doesn't he? If he sees all the options he'd just waste time trying to work out how to make each of them pay."
"Yes, he probably would. Still - common courtesy suggests he'd appreciate a bit of warning for whatever gets done, so next time, make sure he gets copies as well, okay?"
"Okay, sir - John, I mean."
"Right. Okay, I'll have a read of these, and if I want further detail about one of them, I'll contact you and you can bring me the in-depth report. I should have made a choice before ten, anyway."
"Good. Well, don't let me keep you - I'm sure you've got a few thousand words of detailed report to write."
"How did you know?"
John smiled at her. "Never do more work than is strictly necessary, if you think you can get away with it. Well, people other than me will want to know things about this government, so we must have the documents to show them. Understand?"
The next day, mid-morning in fact, an expensive car crept through the usual crowd who seemed to have made the entrance to Downing Street their (temporary) home. Most of them were protestors with a “this is not democracy” platform, the rest just wanted to see if anything interesting was going to happen. The car was admitted to Downing Street, and pulled up outside Number Ten. An expensively-dressed, well-built middle-aged man got out, and was allowed through the open door with no problems.
“That’s right,” the visitor replied, shaking the proffered hand.
“I’m John Tucker, come into my office.”
They both went into John Tucker’s private office.
“You know, I’m surprised you didn’t issue a more concrete statement this week, about the rail contractors.”
“Track repair work is not exclusively carried out by contractors, you know.”
“Yes, I know, I’ve had people researching it. But quite a lot is carried out by contractors, and a lot of those contractors are basically crap.”
“No, you look,” John Tucker picked up a huge pile of papers by one corner and let it drop with a noticeable thud, “this is what the research teams have come up with. Detailed reports of Network Rail’s operations, the contractors used, contractors’ operations, accident and incident reports for the last twenty years - there have been six times as many accidents and incidents in the fifteen-odd years of privatisation than in the preceding five - timetable compliance, delay statistics, cashflow figures,” he put a growl into his voice for that, “comparisons with other countries’ rail networks,” and left it there.
“How did you get all that?”
“Maybe it has something to do with the fact that our research teams are allowed to ask any questions they want of anyone, and they have to be answered to their satisfaction or face criminal proceedings. Not bad for four days work for less than twenty people. Just think what we can do when we’re fully staffed.”
He finally sat down.
“Cup of tea?”
”Do you want a cup of tea?”
“Er... No thanks. I’d like to get down to business, if it’s alright with you.”
“Certainly. Now, as head of Network Rail, you are obviously aware of the problems faced by the rail network. Poor state of repair from years of under-investment, poorly maintained due to cheap and shoddy private contractors, poor service due to the poor state of repair and maintenance, and vastly overpriced. This is an old statistic, and one I’m sure you’re familiar with, but our railways are the most expensive and least efficient in the world - more expensive than the Swiss, less efficient than the Indians with their forty year-old steam engines.”
“I’m not finished. I’ll let you know when I’m finished.” He opened a drawer and took out a piece of paper. “Japanese railways manage to get ninety-nine per cent of their trains arriving within 30 seconds of the advertised time. We’re lucky if ninety per cent of trains arrive within five minutes. Here are your new conditions of employment.” He passed the paper over. “Network Rail is to become a clearing house for rail traffic. The franchise operators will be directly responsible - that means no contractors - for the condition of the track they run over and the rolling stock they use, both passenger and freight, all you have to do is write the timetable and ensure they stick to it. You have three years. Your salary, and those of all Network Rail employees will go down by ten per cent for each year you fail to meet the targets, if you haven’t managed it by the end of the third year, they will never go up. The only time the salaries will increase is if, at the end of a year, you have met the targets. If you meet the targets, your salaries will go up five per cent in the initial three years, after that point, it’s up to you by internal review. There will be no fare increases until the targets are met. If you meet a target and hold to it, we will give you another target. If a train does not arrive within ten minutes of the advertised time, the passengers can get their money back.
“Network Rail and all the operators will be non-profit companies in the first three years - any profit made will be pumped directly back into infrastructure. Safety will be first, timekeeping second, economy third. Shareholders are not important. All the operators will be bound by the same conditions - all the same conditions - as Network Rail, so it will be in all your interests to co-operate, and I will be informing them of the conditions after lunch, because they are lazy bastards who can’t get up early in the mornings. I know you’re an engineer, not a logistician or businessman, that’s why I’m keeping you in charge. You know what sort of track work needs to be done in order to meet your timetabling requirements - the next timetable change is due in two months, I suggest you use the time to get some ‘wholesale track maintenance work’ done. You tell, people do, just like I tell, people do. The operators will answer to you, just like you will answer to the RTSE if there’s an accident. And the RTSE will make you answer, because I’m talking to them at eleven.
“Your initial salary, and the salaries of the heads of the operators, will be £70,000. Your initial target is to get 95% of all trains on the network, long-distance, local and suburban passenger, as well as freight, to arrive at their destinations within two minutes of the advertised time.
”Bullshit. If the Japanese can get ninety-nine per cent of their trains to arrive within 30 seconds of the advertised time, you can get ninety-five per cent of our trains to arrive within two minutes of the advertised time. Hire whoever you need. If it takes massive investment in track and infrastructure, then massive investment will happen. The legislation is already in place that no future government can cancel this programme, so you can effectively ignore the name of the PM for the next three years.”
“It can’t be done. The train operators will never agree to what you’ve suggested - not unless you re-Nationalise, anyway.”
“Oh, I’m not going that far - I’ve simply introduced legislation that makes it practically impossible for them to refuse to co-operate without breaking the law. Britain is an over-crowded country, you see, and if it doesn’t have an efficient mass transportation system, it will collapse. We have a mass transportation system, but it is nowhere near efficient enough, hence legislation to forcibly improve it. Money is not a problem, attitude is.”
“You’ll never fund it!”
“Most of the CEOs of the train companies will be taking a sixty per cent plus wage cut under the new rules, as will their directors and senior management, plus of course they will no longer have the financial burden of paying share dividends. That means that their already substantial profits will be augmented by a significant amount and automatically ploughed straight back into infrastructure, don’t forget. The only way they can get around that is to dramatically slash fares, which will encourage more people to take the train, which will mean more revenues, which will mean more investment or further price cuts. As I said, money is not a problem. And I also said that I will be explaining these terms to the train operators after lunch. They will be subject to the exact same terms and conditions as you are.”
“I haven’t signed yet.”
“Oh dear, can’t think how that happened. It really would be a good idea to. Otherwise I might have to arrange that you never work in this country again, and have great difficulty in finding work in the EU, or any country that was ever a part of the British Empire or Commonwealth.”
“My turn to say bullshit! How?”
“Well, seeing as how the legislation was in place five minutes before you arrived, you are virtually breaking the law by not signing, and actually refusing to would actually, break it. Employers don’t like to employ people with serious criminal records and jail terms behind them, and at your age it’s so hard to find work anyway.”
“This is blackmail! Extortion!”
“No - it’s government. Read the Constitution - ‘The Interim Government’ - that’s the TDP - ‘may enact at any time, any legislation it considers necessary for the future prosperity of the country’. You can check it, if you like. There’s a paragraph about the checks and balances we have to go through to get necessary legislation passed, including what may be considered ‘future prosperity’. It’s quite complicated stuff, really, and we have to be very careful about what we legislate for - but this passed.”
“You’re a dictator. This isn’t democracy, this is communism!”
“No - the railways will still be privately owned and operated, it’s only the management of them that’s returning to government control. And, if this was communism, do you really think I’d offer you seventy-thousand a year?”
“Well - no.”
“There you are then! You’ll sign?”
“I guess I’m going to have to. But don’t think you’ve got away with this - I’m going to tell the Press what you’ve done, and take a look at this legislation, and have a read of the Constitution!”
“I’d wait until you’ve spoken to the CEOs of the train operating companies before you speak to the Press, you’ll save a lot of running around.”
John Armitt signed his new contract and thrust it towards John Tucker. He rose and strode out of the office.
“Thank you, I’ll have it copied and couriered round to your office, I won’t bother seeing you out, as you seem to know the way already,” John said to the empty air.
It was Monday morning, just after eight, and John Tucker had come down to work a little later than usual.
"Why is there never a shaver socket around when you need one?" he mused.
He logged on to his computer and caught up with what was going on via the BBC's website. One particular report caught his eye.
"There is growing concern among the international community, that the UK is rapidly becoming a Communist state, or a dictatorship. A few short paragraphs in the recently introduced Constitution allow the 'interim government' (the True Democratic Party) almost unlimited powers. The continued refusal of Mr Tucker to meet with ambassadors from other countries to allay their fears, is seen as a sign that Britain is becoming a new China, and that the UK is turning into Mr Tucker's sole fiefdom. Moves are already underway in the ruling bodies of the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO, to sever relations with Britain until the situation is confirmed, and if a dictatorship is confirmed, to maintain Britain's isolation on the world stage until the situation changes. The signs are not good - Mr Tucker's draconian methods of re-organising the nation's railways last week point towards the dictatorship that everyone is so afraid of."
The report continued in much the same vein. John Tucker promptly sent in a comment.
"I would hardly call my handling of the re-organisation of the country's railways 'draconian'. Were the offices of the RTSE, the SRA, Network Rail, or any of the operators set on fire? No. Has anyone involved in those organisations been roasted or eaten alive? No. My handling of the re-organisation of the nation's railway system may be considered to be 'dictatorial', or possibly even 'tyrannical', but not 'draconian' - dragons have more sense than to get involved with politics."
He reviewed it briefly, then pressed the send button. He sat back in his chair and called for his PA. "Darren!"
Darren Muggeridge was a graduate of UCLan, Carlisle - however, his qualification was almost useless in that small city, and so he was now employed by the TDP. He stuck his head round the door to John's Office. "Yes boss?"
"Apparently, assorted ambassadors have been queuing up to see me for the last week - why didn't you let me speak to them?"
Darren came in. "You said you only wanted to deal with domestic affairs in the first week - and you also said you only wanted to deal with a full set of them."
"Okay - so who's on the list then?"
"Just a sec." Darren nipped out, and came back a few seconds later with a pile of paper. "Where shall I start?"
"From the top, please. Locals first."
"Locals - well, the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh and Irish Assemblies want to know if they're still relevant."
"Yes - they are at a level where it's still possible to get something done. Until further notice, that is - we've got an issue about them on the survey, remember? You can tell them their jobs are safe for the time being."
"Right. Europe - The EU itself have sent an envoy, as opposed to individual member countries."
"Have individual member countries sent anyone?"
"Yes - France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland, The Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Norway, Finland, and Albania."
"Some of those aren't EU members."
"That's all the European countries that have sent envoys."
"Right. Further abroad?"
"Russia, India, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, from Asia. Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and Zimbabwe from Africa."
"That doesn't sound an awful lot."
"I suspect that's because a lot of them don't have direct embassies with us, or they don't think they're going to be very affected by a regime change half a world away."
"Nice of them. I wish the US would do the same occasionally. Who else?"
"Ask a silly question. Go on."
"Canada, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and Uruguay."
"Yes. Oh, and Argentina's formal request for audience arrived first thing this morning."
"Argentina, eh? That should be worth seeing."
"Oh, nothing. Would you say that's it for now?"
"Probably, yes. There are some other requests to speak to you, sir."
"Stop calling me 'sir'. Who from?"
"The Three Daft Monkeys, Keith Talyor of the Greens, Roger Knapman of UKIP, and George Galloway all seem quite anxious to speak to you. We've also had a rather inflammable request from Nick Griffin for a meeting - failing that, various major bodily organs would suffice."
"What does that irritating little fuckheaded brainless wanker want now?"
"Apart from your head, your balls, your kidneys and your heart?"
"I hadn't planned on letting anybody have those, Darren."
"He says you're a Communist dictator, in league with the Jews and Oil-sheiks, who only wants to crush free-speech, freedom of expression, the free market, and the British working man."
"How anyone can even begin to contemplate about the merest possibility of thinking like that is totally beyond me. Being downright cretinous and bigoted like that should be a crime."
"It may be difficult drafting it."
"Oh, I know." John sat thinking for a few moments. "Sanjay - what's he doing?"
"Sanjay Ballant? He's, er, Minister for Agriculture."
"Well tell him he's now the Minister for Culture."
"Yes, that should show that we're not afraid of the BNP's mindless witterings."
"But the BNP might say we're showing favour."
"They might also say that a Pakistani can't know a thing about British Arts and Culture. And to that, we'll say Sanjay's family has lived here for nearly 50 years, he was at the Cambridge Footlights, and his mother's a sculptor."
"They'll still say it's showing favour and we shouldn't be trusted."
"Then they'll have to prove it in court."
"Okay. What about Louise?"
"She can do Agriculture. Have we got any Jews working for us?"
"I don't know. I can ask."
"Do that. As soon as you find one, promote them to somewhere financial."
"You'll be making it easy for the BNP, sir."
"Ah, but the more noise they make, the easier it will be to say 'shut up'."
"I wouldn't bet on it."
"Why not? By this time tomorrow, it'll be a law that any claim made by a political party, whether made about itself or any opponents, has to be backed by verifiable facts. A Zionist Conspiracy Theory won't be enough."
"They'll say you're just clamping down on free speech."
"We'll say it should have been on the statute books long ago, to prevent the kind of mud-slinging you see at elections nowadays."
"Right. Shall I tell Mr Short what you're planning?"
"Better had do, Darren, thanks. Oh - have the survey results been analysed yet?"
"Er - someone's coming to give you the results just after lunch, sir."
"Okay. What about you? What did you put on your survey?"
"University fees, speed cameras, immigration, a couple of others."
"Good. Participation, that's the sort of thing I like to see. Go and talk to Daniel, will you, and I'll work out something to say to the various assembled Foreign Worthies."
Two hours later, the assembled ambassadors of most of the world's major countries were in the press room at Number Ten Downing Street. As were a handful of interpreters for those who weren't confident in their English.
"Good morning, Excellencies. I apologise for cramming you all in here like this at relatively short notice after ignoring you for so long, but I am newly in charge of a government, and have been very busy familiarising myself with the mess the last twenty-five years have left us in."
"Some would say, Mister Tucker," the American ambassador interrupted, "that living in the country for that length of time would surely familiarise you with its' problems than a mere week in office going through paperwork!"
"Yes, some people would say that. But I am sure you are all learned men and women who realise that no administration likes to tell those it administers absolutely everything about the problems they face - and I am in the rather unique position of having absolutely nothing to do with politics until two weeks ago on Thursday, so I am, essentially, starting from scratch."
"And you think that's going to reassure us about you not being a dictator? That you're new to the job?"
"No, I merely offer it as information. But do not think that my relative inexperience in the field will make me easy to take advantage of during negotiations - I am perfectly capable of finding out everything that needs to be known about an issue within days of knowing you want to talk to me about it. Now, shall we get to the business in hand?"
"And what exactly is that business?" asked the Russian ambassador.
"I believe most of you are anxious to know whether or not this country is abandoning the democratic process in favour of a dictatorial rule?"
"And are you?" The American ambassador again.
"No. Not in the strictest sense of the words, anyway. In fact, in the strictest sense of the words, it's practically the reverse - we are abandoning a system of government where the leader could safely ignore the wishes of the electorate, in favour of a system where the electorate tells the government what its' wishes are on a fairly regular basis."
"And you then ride roughshod over people's liberties!"
"Ah - you mean like in your country, Mr Ambassador, where people's personal web diaries are routinely scanned for anti-government sentiment, or where people with a different faith from that of your leaders' are prevented from entering and leaving the country without first being thoroughly and intimately investigated by a government agency, or where non-combatants from a police-action involving American troops are held in an offshore detention facility for over three years without trial or access to legal assistance, in breach of either your own laws or the Geneva Convention, depending on what you're calling them that day? Are those the sort of liberties you mean, Mr Ambassador?"
"Those incidents have no bearing on the current subject!"
"You're the one who mentioned curtailment of liberties - are you withdrawing your statement?"
"Yes, I am!"
"I see. Very well then, I will continue. The True Democratic Party did not take power in an orthodox manner - however, we did take power with the full authority of the head of our state. We will be in power for a minimum of three months, during which time we will act on whatever issues the voting public asks us to act on. We will not change the status quo except when asked to do so. Rest assured, Excellencies, this country will remain governed on a democratic basis whilst the True Democracy Party is in power. The vital decision-making process will be carried out solely by myself and my cabinet, but the decisions we make will be at the request of the electorate - they will not be generated internally with no reference to those we govern."
"Yeah? What about the railways? It doesn't look like you consulted the electorate about them before nationalising them!"
"I suspect you mean 're-nationalising', Mr Ambassador, and we didn't do that, anyway. The railways are still owned and operated by private companies, they are just administrated by a government agency. We did include an option about the state of the railways in our survey, the overall results of which should be known in a few hours time, and our analysts predicted that the railways would be placed quite highly on most returns. We merely took advantage of an incident to pre-empt the public request to do something."
"And now you've trampled on the free market and cut millions of pounds of income from thousands of stockholders."
"Okay, one: If they're rich enough to buy shares in the first place, they don't really need the income from dividends anyway. And two: This 'free market' you're talking about - it wouldn't happen to be the same one that allowed a certain energy company to run up eight billion dollars worth of debt due to false accounting that covered up for the directors' embezzlement and mis-management, would it? And that same company has somehow been saved from utter bankruptcy and collapse due to government intervention, and also has somehow allowed the culprits walk away scot-free? Hmm?"
"You, sir, are indiscreet."
"No, sir, I am the Prime Minister of this country, and I believe firmly in the rule of law, and am personally in favour of an-eye-for-an-eye, and am therefore disgusted that the inept embezzlers in charge of a major energy company were not even imprisoned for lengthy terms, or made to pay back the stolen money from their own funds.
"Your Excellencies, I believe I have answered your general concerns about this country's administration. If you have more specific enquiries, my PA will be more than happy to arrange a chat between us on an individual basis at a later date. If you wish to make a statement to the Press about this meeting, my Press Secretary will arrange a contact with the appropriate agency for you, on the way out. Good day to you all."
With that, John Tucker rose and left. The assembled dignitaries started an agitated buzzing.
John Tucker stepped into his office, closed the door, and mopped his brow. "Whew! I didn't think it'd be that hard - that American idiot almost got me angry with his constant interruptions."
"Lucky you kept your cool, then," replied the room's occupant, the TDP's Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur MacMillan. He was a squattish, squarish man in his mid thirties, who had dropped out of a Pure Mathematics course at Oxford because he found it unchallenging. It was rumoured he had an IQ that rivalled Stephen Hawking's, but on the only occasion when he took an IQ test, he corrected the questions instead of answering them, and wasn't marked. According to rumour (which he did nothing to halt and everything to foster), he had spent two years in the early nineties dead in a ditch in southern Italy, and was the real man behind the Black Wednesday stock market crash.
"Cool? It was like a bloody furnace in there." John pulled himself together. "Anyway, it's over now, and with any luck they'll all bugger off until we need to tell them we're, I dunno, invading Iceland, or something."
"D'you think we'll be asked to invade Iceland?"
"No - but I might tell David Johnson that we are, just for devilment."
"Oh don't be silly, you know he hasn't got a sense of humour, he might take you seriously."
"I know, I know. What brings you here?"
"I have some bad news for you."
"Nick Griffin managed to get through to me, a few minutes ago."
"Oh, what now?"
"He read your comments on the BBC website - you know, about not being draconian? He says you admit to being a tyrant and dictator, and for the good of the country I should launch an impeachment action against you, and call another General Election."
"I get the impression he doesn't like me very much."
"What religion are you?"
"Agnostic - if pressed, C of E."
"Any foreigners in your family history?"
"Only some Huguenots on my mother's side."
"Ah - he's found out you're one one-hundred-and-twenty-eighth French, which disqualifies you from being an objective leader of this country."
They both laughed at that. "He's just a loud-mouthed moron who thinks he's the next Hitler," John said, "by this time tomorrow he'll under arrest for false political statement."
"Good! Oh, by the way, you told Darren to find out if any of us are Jewish."
"You should have seen him. He came into the canteen when we were all getting our first coffee of the day, and asked, 'anyone here Jewish?' like he was trying to find the recipient of a parcel."
"Well, Jane said that she was, and why did he want to know..."
"Jane Leviss - Sports Minister until a few hours ago?"
"Ah, yes, gotcha. Well?"
"Darren said, 'you're being promoted to piss off the BNP,' and told her she was the new Welfare Minister."
"How did she take it?"
"She needed a second cup of coffee. Mike wasn't too pleased - he's only ever played cricket, and he's not that good at it."
"Mike Durant wasn't all that hot on the concept of Welfare either, I seem to remember."
"At least he knew what it was. I don't think he's ever even watched snooker!"
"Ah! So he has some redeeming features, then," John grinned.
It was now 1:00pm, and John Tucker was munching a cheese and tomato sandwich at his desk as he composed a letter to the Scottish Parliament, telling them their jobs were safe for now. At least, that's what he was pretending to be doing - what he was really doing was browsing the web looking for cheap music downloads.
ALT + TAB
Jenny Lancaster, who now seemed to officially be the Researcher whose job it was to give John Tucker reports, came in with a single sheet of paper.
"Ah, Jenny! What can I do you for?"
She came over and sat down, putting the paper in front of John as she did so. "The survey results are in. I think you may be a little surprised."
John did not look at the paper. "Okay - surprise me."
"We got seventy-eight per cent returns."
"That's good - thirteen per cent more than our best predictions. What else?"
"What did our analysts say the top concerns would be?"
"Road safety, Council Tax, and either Europe or America as the top three. Then either America or Europe, the decline of British industry, the Euro, immigration, the NHS, the Armed Services, and crime."
"Crime, immigration, road safety, climate change, the NHS, the Armed Services, British industry, Europe, America, and the TV licence."
"The TV licence! That came higher than Council Tax?"
"I'm afraid so, sir."
John sighed. "I've said it before, I'll say it again - the British public is a fickle entity."
"So is fame, I've heard."
"Not an entity, really. Just a concept. You can hit part of the British public in the face if you take it into your head to do so, but just try punching fame in the face. So, what came top?"
"Crime. Bob's already going on about bringing back flogging."
"He would - he may have the glimmering of a point, too."
"I hope it's a small one."
"Are you against corporal punishment?"
"I don't see how the state can justify punishing someone for, assault, say, by assaulting him."
"An-eye-for-an-eye. From the last lot of police figures I saw, prison sentences aren't having much effect on violent crime."
"So, you want us to investigate the possibility of re-introducing physical punishment for serious offenders?"
"Your standing orders are to investigate every option, and bring me the most likely ones to work. So, yes, everything from corporal, even capital punishment, to community service."
"Not a pleasant option, but one that still has to be investigated."
"I understand, sir."
"Take your time on it - crime is a big issue, it should really be a month-job. But, as we don't have a month at the moment, in which we could be seen to be doing nothing, we'll have to start a second line of inquiry. What was second?"
"That should be easier. After all, it's basically a matter of border control, population density, and skills shortages, isn't it? Is there a Head Researcher?"
"No-one's been appointed yet, sir."
"Right. If you stop calling me 'sir', you can be the Head Researcher. Form two teams - one can work on the crime question, the other on the immigration question. A two-thirds split should work best - the larger team can work on the shorter problem. We'll redress any imbalance when we get some recruits in."
"I'm the Head Researcher, John?"
"You are now."
Monday afternoon - John Tucker meets with representatives from the UN and NATO, assuring them that democracy is still at large in Britain, and the situation will not change in the immediate future.
Tuesday morning - John Tucker does the same with a representative from the EU.
Tuesday afternoon - Leading political figures (three weeks ago) are told not to worry, the country is still a democracy - in fact, it is more of a democracy now than when they had any relevance. Nick Griffin is very carefully not invited. Those who were invited, were given a cup of tea.
Wednesday morning - Various high-profile charitable organisations come to see John Tucker. They are told that the country is not becoming a ruthless, oppressive, dictatorship, and also that, unfortunately, debt relief for the third world will not be increased in the foreseeable future, nor will anti-poverty measures be increased, nor will environmentally-friendly measures be introduced (at least in the next few weeks). They will, of course, be welcome to offer their suggestions for these things, when the British public asks the TDP to deal with them. Have a cup of tea.
Wednesday afternoon - Nick Griffin makes yet another press statement, saying that the PM is, by his own admission, a tyrannical dictator, paid by the Jews and the Oil-Sheikdoms to stifle freedom of expression, stamp out free speech, extinguish free will in this cradle of democracy, crush the British working man, yadda yadda yadda. He is arrested ten minutes later for making a false political statement, which, he is told, has been illegal for the past 24 hours. David Jones, the Foreign Minister, sends a communique to Greece, asking if their government believes the British one is trying to extinguish free will in their country.
Thursday morning - Nick Griffin is released on bail, and promptly hit in the face by a thrown half-brick. The brick-thrower is arrested for assault, but not before Nick Griffin also is. Yesterday's communique receives a reply, which basically asks what the Hell they are on about. The options for the immigration issue are given to John Tucker, David Jones, Jane Leviss, and Peter Donalds.
Thursday afternoon - John Tucker receives a deputation from the Metropolitan Police, the Home Office, and Amnesty International, who are all very concerned at the rate at which new laws are entering the statute books. They are told not to worry, there's shouldn't be many more for a few weeks. The options on immigration are whittled down to two.
Thursday evening - Nick Griffin is again released on bail, and almost immediately arrested again for false political statement, after telling the waiting paparazzi that he was arrested to keep him quiet, in accordance with the TDP's evil political schemes. The BNP do not bother bailing him this time. The ballot papers for the immigration options are sent out.
It was 10:30am on Friday morning. Three men were meeting in the bar of an up-market hotel on the north bank of the Thames.
"Guess what we all got in the post this morning?"
"You got a P45? Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, Michael. Someone somewhere must think you're unemployed."
"Well, we all are, aren't we? Technically."
"For the next three months, at any rate."
"It's closer to two months now. Today's the 20th of May, two weeks and one day since the TDP moved in."
"So neither of you two got a P45?"
"Well, it can only be a matter of time, then."
"Yes. On the bright side, though, how did you like your ballot paper on immigration?"
"Yes, that. Did everyone get one?"
"Yes, of course. The whole country's got them. It says on them, 'please tick one box and return this form in the freepost envelope provided before Sunday'. They're not going to get many responses in that short a time, are they?"
"Oh, I dunno, Tony - Tucker told us they got a better response from their national survey than they expected, didn't he?"
"Yes - but they gave people a week for that. This one isn't even three days."
"So what are you two going to put?"
"Well," Tony fished in his pocket for his form, "given the choice of either 'adhering strictly to the Geneva Convention when accepting refugees or seekers of political asylum, and only accepting other immigrants with needed job skills', or 'closing all borders to all refugees, asylum-seekers, and other immigrants, except on an individual basis after a written application is made to the Home Office', I think I'd prefer the former."
"Does anybody know the Geneva Convention well enough to tell me what strict adherence to it would be?"
"Just feed and water them, probably."
"Cherie told me it has to do with borders crossed. Apparently, a refugee or asylum-seeker can only cross into a country adjacent to their own. If they don't like that country, they can go to another country adjacent to their own, but not to a country that isn't adjacent to their own. If they want to go further than one border from their original home country, they have to become a citizen of their new country of residence first."
"That sounds a trifle hard on them."
"I think it's supposed to be. Again, it's not Cherie's exact field, so she was a little unclear about it, but her explanation's probably the best we're going to get without going delving into the Convention Agreement itself."
"What exactly is your wife's field?"
"Human rights, mainly. She knows enough in other fields to know that what Tucker has done so far is legally dodgy, but so far he hasn't set up a Guantanamo Bay, so she's not going to make any definitive statements."
"What about Belmarsh?"
"Yes, Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh, where, seven, I think it is now, Al Qaeda suspects have been detained for nearly two years without trial. Wouldn't that be her field, then?"
"If someone finds evidence of those seven being tortured or beaten up, then it will become her field."
"Handy for you."
"And anyway, those seven were going to be released. The Law Lords found their indefinite incarceration illegal, remember? We were still in the process of setting up surveillance and security for them outside when Tucker took over. God knows what's going on with them now."
"They've probably been forgotten about."
"Or lost in the files - they were only documented with MI5, weren't they?"
"They were on the secure list of dangerous prisoners. I don't know what they're listed as now."
"Did anyone see what happened to Nick Griffin?"
"Leader of the BNP? Of course! We're going to have to be careful what we say from now on."
"Not all that careful - I took a look at the legislation yesterday. You can only be arrested for making false political statement if it's published or broadcast. The party who believes the statement to be false then has to request the arrest, and the arrested party has to prove their statement to be true. If the offended party can prove the statement to be false, and the arrested party cannot prove to a jury's satisfaction that the statement was true, then there's a six month jail term waiting for them."
"What if it can't be proved false?"
"The accuser can then be charged with false political statement. If the first trial found the original statement to be true as well, the accuser gets the jail term."
"But if a statement's false, therefore cannot be proved to be true, but there's also no evidence to support an accusation of falsity, what happens?"
"I'm not a lawyer, so I can't tell you for certain, but at a guess, I'd say no conviction."
"So - do you think Griffin's right, about Tucker being a dictator trampling on people's rights?"
"On current evidence, it's hard to tell."
"Dictator, yes. Trampling on people's rights? No. The fact that we got these ballot things this morning is evidence that people's rights are still untrampled."
"Griffin's going down, then."
"Looks like it."
"About bloody time, the irritating little tit."
It was now Monday lunchtime. Jenny Lancaster had just brought the results of the immigration options vote to John Tucker. Grated cheese was lightly scattered over a small area of desk again.
"How many did we send?"
"We managed to get 35 million done - we hired practically every printers' in London."
"And they all went out?"
"Yes. Guaranteed next day delivery."
"This is costing us a fortune. We're going to have to find something cheaper."
"Dan Soames is working on something, he says. Daniel Short also says we should be able to get a secure voting system on our website by the end of the week."
"Good. I trust Daniel on that, he's a thorough programmer. What return rate?"
"Forty-nine per cent. Again, higher than we anticipated, given the short time period - but it is likely to fall as time goes on."
"Then all the more reason to implement alternative voting systems quickly. What were the results?"
"Ninety-five per cent in favour of option..."
A Press conference at Number Ten Downing Street early next morning, John Tucker presiding.
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Today, I am going to tell you about our policy on immigration, which was formed yesterday after we received the results of a ballot on the matter. This is the first time that we have been able to directly ask the public their opinion on an issue we put to them in our national survey two weeks ago. I have to inform you that immigration was not given the highest priority by the electorate on the survey, that accolade went to crime. As crime is such a large and complex issue, we have split our rapidly growing team of Researchers into two so that some could concentrate on crime, and some could concentrate on this smaller issue of immigration."
"Mr Tucker, some people might say that immigration is just as great an issue as crime."
"Yes, Mr Marr, some people might say that. I, however, do not. Dealing with crime means dealing with poverty, with addictions, with justice, with sentencing, with smuggling, with violence, with theft, with habit, with boredom, with all sorts of different things. Therefore I thought it wise to allocate a longer research time to crime than to other issues we have been dealing with. By contrast, immigration requires only an understanding of skills shortages, population density, and border control. These areas have been researched by the government team detailed to do so, and the options you were asked to vote for on the ballot paper sent out before the weekend were the two options that we felt most likely to be successful."
"Mr Tucker, I am sure I won't be the first to point out that the two options presented were somewhat extreme."
"Yes, they were. But you have to remember that this country is overpopulated and underemployed. Why spend time and money looking at naturalisation applications, and asylum applications, and refugee registrations, when we can spend it on re-training an unemployed citizen of this country? There are plenty of re-training schemes already in place, we are merely going to widen them, and make them more accessible."
"But, surely, many immigrants to this country are skilled people that we have a shortage of in this country, even after years of government-sponsored incentives and initiatives to try and raise numbers - doctors, for example."
"Obviously re-training takes time, and it cannot be successfully applied to everyone - would you want a man who used to be a brickie as your heart surgeon? Of course not! Your dentist, possibly, but not your surgeon. I'm not suggesting that all brickies have the necessary mental and physical skills to be a surgeon, but I am suggesting that a good many of them, after years of using brute force to do a job, will be incapable of training to the level required for a highly dexterous operation. A round peg for a round hole, and if there is a Sudanese doctor wanting to live and work in Britain, I am sure we will be able to find him a doctor-shaped hole. There aren't many foreign electricians who want to live in Britain, so the electrician-shaped hole can be filled by reshaping the brickie-shaped peg. But that is a different subject. Skilled workers will be dealt with shortly."
John Tucker cleared his throat.
"The public who returned their ballot forms voted almost unanimously in favour of the first option, which was 'strict adherence to the Geneva Convention when accepting refugees or seekers of political asylum, and only accepting other immigrants with needed job skills'. Option two, which received five per cent of the vote, was to 'close all borders to all refugees, asylum-seekers, and other immigrants, except on an individual basis after a written application is made to the Home Office'. Yesterday, the relevant Ministers and I began formulating a policy to comply with option one. The policy was drafted as a Bill earlier today, and will be Enacted some time this afternoon.
"The Geneva Convention specifies that a seeker of political asylum or other refugee, can only travel to a country adjacent to their original one and still be considered as such. As Britain is an island, this means that anyone from a country with a coastline could technically claim asylum or refugee status here. However, after considering this, it was decided that only citizens of countries that could be reached by travelling in a direct and straight line from any point on either our border or theirs, could claim asylum or refugee status in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The countries that qualify are as follows: Ireland, The Western Sahara, Spain, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, The USA, Mexico, The Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, Puerto Rico, Columbia, Venezuela, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, and Brazil. Anyone from other countries trying to claim either refugee status, or political or other asylum, will be returned to a country adjacent to the one they originated from. There will be no appeals. Britain is not the world's biggest refugee camp.
"Other individuals requesting a permanent immigration to this country in order to work, will face a largely unchanged procedure. They must apply, via their local British Consulate or Embassy, for an entry visa and work permit. They must hold a valid passport from their country of origin, which will be checked against that country's passport-issuing office. Once they have the visa and permit, if they have a skill of which there is a shortage of in this country - such as doctors, teachers, electricians - they will be highlighted to the relevant sector as someone to employ. If they do not have a skill which there is a shortage of in this country, they will be allowed to reside in this country under the same conditions as a natural-born citizen, for up to twelve months, in order to look for a job. If they have not found long-term gainful employment, or made other legal arrangements during that time, they will be returned to their country of origin, whereupon they will have to wait six months before trying again.
"Once in long-term gainful and legal employment, either through possessing a skill of which there is a shortage in this country, or through seeking work whilst residing here, the immigrant will be required to exchange their passport for a British one - or a joint passport, if they prefer - and sign a legally-binding written declaration that they are now a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and must obey all the laws of this country, and to recognise the authority of the Crown and HM Government and its' appointed officers, and to recognise that this state's official language is English, and that this state's official religion is Christian, and if theirs is different they are under no obligation to change, and allow others to speak and worship in their own way, just as HM Government is allowing you to speak and worship in yours. If they are found to have broken this declaration after signing it, they may either be imprisoned, or deported to their country of origin, depending on the seriousness of the breach. They will also have to surrender their British citizenship and passport, or forfeit all right to the British component of their joint passport, if they have one.
"You mentioned deportation to country of origin a few times there, Mr Tucker."
"Yes, what about it?"
"What if it's unsafe to return them to their country of origin? If they were being persecuted, for instance, or of there's a civil war?"
"Okay - deportation to country of origin is only for those who successfully applied to live and work in this country, after signing and subsequently breaching their written citizenship declaration. It will presumably be safe to return them to their country of origin in this case, as it will only usually mean a lower standard of living. Seekers of asylum of any kind, or refugees, from any country that was not included in the list I read out earlier, will be deported to a country adjacent to their country of origin. They are seeking asylum or refugee status for a reason, and we are not stupid. Sending those people back to where they came from would put their safety at risk, and so we will be returning them to an adjacent country. It's like if your house burns down - you spend the night at the police station or a hostel, and the next day you move in with your neighbours while you try and salvage belongings, wait for the insurance assessors, and try and arrange something more permanent with your relatives. You don't go back to the burned-out wreck of your house, because it might collapse on you at any moment."
"Mr Tucker, will the new immigration for work regulations apply also to EU residents?"
"Yes. There will be no exceptions. If a Pole or an Italian wants to work in this overcrowded and underemployed country, they will have to apply for an entry visa and work permit from their nearest consulate or embassy."
"What about people who only want to work here for a short time - film makers or performers, for instance?"
"Then they can apply for the current short-term work permit, and if successful, as long as they don't stay more than a week longer than the project they are engaged upon, that's fine. If they want to look for further work once here, they will have to apply for the new work permit through the Home Office, and go through the same procedures. I have to say though, that there is not a shortage of film makers or performers in this country, so they will not be highlighted for rapid employment."
"You said there would be no appeals. How can you justify that?"
"It's simple. The regulations are clear, they are written in simple language with no bureaucratese, and any competent translator could translate them for a non-English literate person. If you break them, you have broken them, and you must face the consequences."
"What about illegal immigrants who may have false passports from one of the countries on the list?"
"Anyone entering, or found to have entered, the country illegally, whether by using a false passport or by bypassing passport control completely, will be instantly deported to what we can determine to be their country of origin, or to an adjacent country if their country of origin is ruled unsafe. It's covered in existing law and the new approved countries list. Anything else?"
"Do you really think these new regulations will have an effect on the numbers of immigrants flooding into this country, both legal and illegal?"
"I cannot say what the effect may be on illegal immigration - it is, being illegal, hard to get accurate figures. Once people realise that being found to be an illegal immigrant will result in instant deportation, less of them may attempt it. On legal immigration, however, we expect somewhere around a fifty per cent reduction in immigrants within a year. However, we can only wait and see what the real effect will be, and this policy may be highly ineffective - we can only wait and see."
"If suspect the new regulations may be ineffective, why legislate for them?"
"I'm covering my arse, basically - I don't want to be arrested in twelve months time for false political statement!"
That provoked a laugh - and a question about Nick Griffin.
"Mr Griffin is a small-minded, bigoted little prat, and you can tell him I said so. However, Mr Griffin is not the subject today. The subject today is the new immigration legislation that will come into effect within the next twenty four hours. Are there any other relevant questions?"
"Mr Tucker, what are the government's research teams working on now, and how many of them are there?"
"There are currently two teams of Researchers, the larger of which is twenty-seven strong. Both are currently working on the crime issue, as we are having technical difficulties in preparing a suitable ballot medium that can be re-used each week. So everybody's got a week's break before we ask them to do any decision-making again, probably on road safety, as that was the next highest priority issue returned to us."
"What were the priority issues that the British public voted to be dealt with?"
"I think we are leaving relevancy again, ladies and gentlemen. If you want to know that, I suggest you ask my Press Secretary why it isn't on our website yet. My contribution to today's release of information is over, so thank you very much for coming, we will be in touch next time we have an issue's solution to discuss, so if you'll excuse me?"
John Tucker, who had been sidling out of the room with his papers under his arm for most of that last sentence, left the room.
It was Wednesday morning. John Tucker had, as usual, got everyone up early and told them they were due in a meeting with him in about ten minutes. “Everyone” in this case being Daniel Short, Arthur MacMillan, Bob Wellhall, Jenny Lancaster, and Dan Soames, the TDP’s very own Mad Scientist (or Chief Technical Officer, as he preferred to be known). Jenny in particular was feeling groggy, as she’d been up half the previous two nights trying to sort out all the new recruits for the Research teams that she was now in charge of. So it should have been no surprise to John Tucker that, when he walked in to the cabinet office and greeted everyone with a cheery “Good morning, everybody, how are we all this morning?”, all he got in reply was a series of groans and muttered imprecations.
“Oh, come on,” he said, sitting down, “it’s not that bad!”
“John - I’ve had four hours sleep,” Jenny told him.
“So have I - and..?”
“And we’re all only here due to copious amounts of coffee,” Bob Wellhall explained.
“Ah. You’re all still half-asleep. I don’t see why, it’s barely half-eight, you should all be up and raring to go by now!”
“John, not all of us are rabid workaholics who can survive on three hours sleep a week. In real life, most people don’t start work until nine.”
“Since when?” asked Arthur. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Britain has a long-hours culture, a lot of people work from eight to six, not nine to five.”
“Yeah - psycho yuppies in The City,” Bob replied, “not real people doing real jobs. Most people do nine to five, and that’s quite enough for them.”
“And what about factory workers? Eight hour shifts starting at eight-thirty, I’d hardly call that nine-to-five. Or don’t they count as ‘real people’?”
“Only since the bloody managers decided they could make more money by doing more with less, and...”
John interrupted this long-standing argument before it could get any further. “Yes, thank you, I am well aware that British workers have longer hours and poorer quality of lives than anywhere else in Europe. With any luck, the ‘bloody psycho yuppie managers’ will realise how unsustainable it is in the long-term, and start cutting back on their hours, leading by example and creating more jobs to fill the gaps. But that is not what we are here to discuss. We are here to discuss our logistics and systems problem.”
“Problems,” corrected Dan Soames. He had been the chief engineer at the TDP’s inaugural broadcast, and was probably wearing, if not the same T-shirt and jeans, then an identical set.
“Are they multiple? I thought it was all one big problem?”
“Solving one part of it won’t solve the other parts of it, but it may provide a step towards a solution.”
“Okay. We are here to discuss our logistics and systems problems.”
“Which are what, exactly?” asked Arthur.
“One - the last two weeks have proved that we are not equipped to send out forty million plus ballot forms every Friday and have them returned on the Monday. Two - even if we were, many of the ballot forms would have no policy options on them. Three - people are not going to like having to read and fill in a form once a week, and return it to us immediately. They are going to want to have time to think about it, and that means we might not get their ballot until after the deadline. They also may forget about it, or even not get it, until too late.”
“So you want us to give ideas on how to make sure we stick to schedule and get the most amount of people to return their ballots?”
“Broadly, yes. And for that, we need a schedule. Now, we said in our initial address that ‘the votes will be counted on the Friday, and the policy will be implemented on the Monday’.” So far, we have not been able to keep up with that. Now - in order to give the public a decent chance to vote, we should probably send out the ballots on Monday, so that they can return them on Friday, they’re counted over the weekend, and policy implemented and announced by home time on Monday.”
“That’s a horrible lag-time. We’d have to start research on the next topic the week before!”
“Yes. I’ve worked out a rough timetable, it’s on your sheets, let me know what you think. Monday one, research starts on policy one. Friday one, the options are presented in the morning, and the ballots are sent to the printers for printing over the weekend by the end of the afternoon. Monday two, research starts on policy two, and the ballots for policy one are sent out. Tuesday two, the ballots for policy one arrive at people’s houses. Friday two, options for policy two are presented in the morning, and the ballots for policy two are sent to the printers by the end of the afternoon. Saturday two, the ballot return deadline is first post, then they are counted - this is for policy one, remember. Monday three, lots of things happen. Research starts on policy three, ballots for policy two are sent out, and the results of the policy one ballot are presented. In the afternoon, policy one is announced to the Press, and the public are told what policy two is, that they will be receiving ballot forms for in the morning. Everyone follow that?”
“That is a horrible lag-time. We’d have to have separate teams for everything so as not to get confused! We’d need a hell of a lot of systems in place to make sure everything gets done on time in the right order!”
“True. However, it deals with problem two, and helps to deal with problem three. Problem one still needs to be addressed. Any ideas?”
“How about Hansard?”
“The government printers, they minute debates and publish White Papers?”
“I know who Hansard are, I want to know what your idea is about them.”
“Oh - well, they’re not doing anything at the moment, are they? I mean, there’s no debates or sessions in the Houses to minute, are there, and we haven’t released any White Papers.”
“You think they could print the ballots for us?”
“Why not? They have to have a record of the previous day’s debate ready for inspection by the next day, so they’re used to working in a hurry.”
“And we’re still paying them, I’ve just realised,” Bob added. “I must have another look at the books, see who’s not being employed actively since we came to power.”
“Caterers, drivers - they won’t have as much work with no sessions on.”
“Thank you,” John interrupted, “that will certainly come in handy if you can save us some more money, Bob. As to using Hansard, very good idea. Mass printing at cheap rates, in-house, is just what we need. Very good!”
“Right. So that’s problems one and two dealt with, now on to problem three. People not having enough time to complete and return the ballots, or forgetting to do so, or not receiving them until too late. We’ve already given them an extra day in which to respond, but three days still isn’t a lot of time for some people. So, we need to use electronic means of voting. Dan?”
“By mobile phone, via adaptions to digital TV, and online.”
“Yes - a variation on the theme of ‘Press Red’. But I’ll come to that later, I want to start with mobile phones as the most obvious.”
“And the least secure.”
“Not so, and I’ll tell you why later. There are more people in Britain with mobile phones than either on the internet or with digital TV. They are very popular with young people, so using them as a ballot method would encourage more young people to vote, it being easily accessible to them. Purchasing an eighty-thousand number and using it to count votes...”
“And eighty-thousand number? What’s that?”
“You know - ‘text Tone14 to 89141 for your free Sweaty the Chick video ringtone!’ and things of that ilk.”
“Yes. Purchasing an eighty-thousand number and using it to count votes would be relatively cheap. All we’d have to do is put a bit on the ballot form telling them to text Vote1 or something to our number, and the system would do the rest.”
“The receive and display system. It basically works like a file directory, in that it stores texts received to that number, and you can display them any way you like - individually, in lists, sorted by number, content, and so on. We can apply filters to block anything that’s not Vote1 or Vote2, or however many options there are this week, and to block anything after the first message from the same number - that’s how we can avoid rigging, you see - and a sub-program can count them all up for each category.”
“Pros and cons?”
“Pros: Simple, accessible, cheap, predicted good return rate, one vote per phone, only need to add one line to the ballots to get it going. Cons: We’ll need a hell of a lot of server space, and even then we’ll need to run a regular periodic count and wipe. One person can use more than one phone, and of course, anyone with a phone, of voting age or not, can use a phone. We are only sending the ballots to registered voters, of course, but there’s nothing to stop people telling non-voters what the numbers are.”
“Sounds good so far. The problems are not insurmountable. Okay - digital TV?”
“Basically, we hire a regular slot on a digital channel and broadcast at pre-arranged times that we advertise on the ballot. In a short address, someone will have to present the options to the public, and then ask them to vote by Pressing Red and selecting their option. Pros are that it’s cheap to advertise, simple to run and implement, and probably just as accessible as mobile phone. Cons are, expensive, and highly insecure. Someone with a mobile could vote on digital as well, there’s no way of stopping someone voting more than once, especially if we broadcast multiple times a week to get the best return rates, anyone with access to digital TV can vote, and there’s a high probability of an international audience who may try and vote.”
“Doesn’t sound too good - I suggest we leave that on the back burner for now. What about online voting?”
“There are two real ways we can do this - the secure way, or the simple way.”
“Tell us about the simple way first.”
“And the secure way?”
“Again, via our website. Voters will be required to register before they can cast a vote. What happens is, they register with a few simple details held on the electoral roll, we check them off, give them a user name and password, and they can use that whenever they visit the site to vote. A registered voter logs in using the name and password we give them, fills in the form as with the simple way, and as with the simple way, we use a cookie to make sure they don’t vote again. A little more difficult to set up, but the same running costs and maintenance, and much more secure.”
“Cookies are stored on the user’s computer - what if they log in on another computer and vote again? The cookie won’t be there.”
“We’ll have a script running as well - it will flick a binary toggle in the database of registered voters when they vote on one issue, so if they try and get round it to vote again, they won’t get past the login screen. Similarly, if they turn off cookies and scripts, they won’t get past the login screen, registered or not.”
“But if they have scripts and cookies turned off, how are you going to stop them logging on. If scripts are turned off, you can only detect that they’ve got them turned off, you can’t do anything about it!”
“It’s tricky - it requires some very good lateral thinking code programming, but it can be done. It’s not impossible to arrange. The good thing is, we only need to write that particular piece of code once.”
“Probably an outside firm of web security specialists.”
“Okay,” John interrupted the technical argument. “So what you’re saying is, mobile phones will be easy and useful, digital TV easy but problematic and expensive, and it may take some time to set up a secure web-voting system?”
“Well get on with it then. Dan - set up the mobile phone thing first, then see about the website option with the registration scheme. Daniel, work with him, make sure he doesn’t get carried away, then tell the Press we have extra bells and whistles. Arthur - tell Hansard what their new job is. Jenny - what are your teams working on right now?”
“We’ve got the ongoing crime investigation, of course, and some of them are working on the road safety question, since you hinted at it in yesterday’s Press conference.”
“How likely are we to have any options on road safety by Friday?”
“If I put crime on hold until then, very likely.”
“Do it. How many people have you got now, by the way?”
“Sixty-three. I’m hoping we can recruit another forty or so.”
“Top out at seventy-five until I can get another good look at expenditures.”
“Three teams, then. All doing road safety until the end of the week. On Monday, we send out the ballots for road safety, and start back on crime. You’ll have to assign another team to climate change on Monday as well. I want options for road safety in two days, options for climate change in nine days, and options for crime in sixteen days. And in twenty-three days, the NHS. Understand?”
“I think so. From Monday, road safety is in week two, climate change in week one. A week on Monday sees road safety finished, climate change in week two, and crime back to week one status. Two weeks from Monday, climate change is finished, crime is in week two, and the NHS is in week one. Yes?”
“That’s it. Alright everybody, let’s get to business!”
“Yes, it’s been an unusually quiet ten days at Westminster, after Mr Tucker’s last Press conference, detailing his party’s plans to deal with immigration. Those plans, remember, have basically closed the UK’s borders to anyone who doesn’t have a valid passport already, or who come from a country that cannot be reached by travelling in a straight line from this one. He did say at the time that the TDP were having technical difficulties about maintaining their promise to regularly ask the electorate their views on issues that the government are dealing with, but things seem to have got back on track now. As you are probably aware, the latest ballot forms on road safety were sent out on Monday, to be returned by tomorrow, so that a policy can be formed in time for an announcement on Monday. We have already been told that a regular system of issues and ballots has been initialised by the TDP, and it started this week, on Monday, in fact, but as yet there is no proof of anything continuous. There have been unconfirmed rumours of a secure text-voting system due to be implemented with the next issue of ballots, which are rumoured to be on crime, which was given a month’s investigation time by the TDP Research Unit. It will be a little less than a month when the public get to see the options on that issue, but it does look like John Tucker is trying to get things onto some sort of regular track. There are also whisperings of a secure internet-based voting system for the following weeks, but so far, neither that nor the text-vote system have been confirmed as definite by Downing Street. In the month since the election was bypassed to make way for the TDP, there has not actually been a noticeable difference to the country - the trains are no better, according to some newspaper surveys, and the new immigration legislation has not had time to take effect. There are a number of new jobs being created though, mainly in the government Research Unit, but they total less than a hundred. If Mr Tucker and the TDP want to stay in power, they will need to demonstrate more effective results to the electorate within the next two months, or face being voted out, by their own rules. Andrew Marr, Westminster.”
It is 2pm on Monday the 6th of June 2005, and John Tucker has entered the Press Room at Ten Downing Street, to release details of the TDP’s answer to the road safety problem, as voted for by the public the previous week. As last time, Daniel Short has counted all the Press in, and has closed the doors behind them. Also as last time, the only other person from the TDP in the room is a single security guard. By now, a certain amount of international interest has arisen in the activities of the TDP - claiming (and to some extent demonstrating) democratic rule whilst exacting almost dictatorial control over the country. The world wants to know what John Tucker and the other democratic dictators of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will do next, and should we be worried about it? In the case of many of the more insular or distant countries, at this stage, the answer is “no”.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” said John Tucker, sitting down. “Today, I’m going to talk to you about road safety, but first, I’d like to tell you about our new streamlined ballot-system. The weekly ballot to decide what exactly gets done about certain issues in this country. It needs to be both regular, so that people can get into the rhythm of voting, and accessible, so that people can cast their vote easily. It’s no good hoping forty million ballot forms will be returned complete and on time every single week - people will forget them, they may not have time to do them - considering the state of the post office, they may not even receive them! So we need to provide alternative methods of voting, if we don’t want the number of forms returned each week to drop and drop. We want as many people as possible to vote on issues, otherwise this country again turns into a country ruled by just a few people doing whatever they want, because not enough people have said what they want!
“So, to this effect, we are today introducing a text-vote service for anyone with a mobile phone. The number to text to, and the instructions for your vote, are on the ballot form, so if you don’t have time to pop down to the post box, you can text in your opinion, much as if you were texting your opinion to a radio show. We have measures in place to disregard all messages that do not match our voting message, and we also have a system to ensure that you cannot vote more than once on the same issue. Your vote is safe, it cannot be duplicated, it cannot be stolen, unless, of course, someone steals your phone.
“We also plan to have ready by next week, an online voting system. All you have to do is log on to our website, truedemocracy-dot-gov-youkay, and register yourself with us. Your name and other details will be checked against the electoral register, and if you match, you will get a user name and password, which you can use in all future visits to the site to vote. Again, we have measures in place to make sure that every person can only vote once on each issue.
“The online voting service is not yet up and running, so I would ask you all not to try and vote on our website this week, as it’s not there. The text-vote service is ready, and you can use it to vote on the issue of climate change, for which the ballot papers are being sent out this week. The policy options you can vote on next week will be on crime, but today, I am going to let you know the results of the national ballot on the options to deal with the road safety problem.”
“Pardon me, Prime Minister,” a journalist interrupted, “but what are the measures in place to keep the text and online voting systems secure?”
“Complicated,” replied John Tucker. “Now, road safety.
“Everybody knows that today’s roads are unsafe - unsafe for children to play alongside them, unsafe for pedestrians to cross in many places, unsafe for cyclists, unsafe for many ordinary motorists, even. We have to ask ourselves why this is, and the answer has to be ‘there are too many motor vehicles on the roads’. With the exception of motorways, roads in this country were not built with half-ton lumps of metal travelling twice as fast as a man can run in mind - many weren’t even built with the horse and carriage in mind. Almost all roads in every country on the planet were built for people to walk down, maybe the odd ox-cart carrying goods, the occasional nobleman’s horse. Not fast carriages with four horses pulling them, and definitely not motor cars with one hundred horsepower internal combustion engines.
“And so, in order to make roads safer places, we have to make it difficult for motor vehicles to be used to their full performance abilities, and maybe even create a vehicle that cannot exceed the legal capacities of the roads. We also have to exercise greater control over road users, so that legal limits and advisories are complied with. The roads are so unsafe, that the penalty for driving without insurance is less than the cost of insurance itself - that is one of the things that must change if the roads are to be made safer in any way.
“As of now, it has changed. If you are caught driving without insurance, the fine will be twice what the insurance cover would be. You also lose your car, and you have to retake your test. From now on, driving tests cannot be taken without the prospective driver showing proof that they are insured. Other punitive measures may also be put into place.
”Speeding is another great problem. People whine about Gatso cameras snapping them speeding, and complain that they are only being used to raise police revenue. The answer is simple - if you break the law, you will be punished. If you didn’t break the law, there wouldn’t need to be as many speed cameras. Exceeding the speed limit is breaking the law. And to make sure people get the message, the fines for speeding will be increased - from now, as well as the standard £50 fine, one pound will be added for every mile per hour you are caught driving at - so if you are doing 60 on a road with a 40mph speed limit, you will pay a total of £110. The minimum possible fine will be £81. If people continue to speed at the rate they currently do, I expect speed camera revenues to triple at the very least - and you don’t want that, do you? Best just to keep to the speed limit. If the number of vehicles caught speeding goes down in the next six weeks, we will start removing speed cameras from areas where they are not needed. If, however, it turns out they are needed, then speed cameras will be placed every mile on every road in the country. You really do not want that. The more vehicles that keep to the speed limit, the safer it will be for everyone on the roads.
“Another way of ensuring safer roads, is to create safer drivers. Any new driver wanting to learn to drive, must first undergo a Compulsory Basic Training course, and pass it, before they can take lessons. Motorcyclists already undergo such a course, and there has been a noticeable drop in motorcycle accidents and injuries. The CBT course will therefore be expanded and adapted to all type of motor vehicle. If you do not have a CBT certificate, you cannot take the test. And to make sure you stay a safe driver, you will have to retake the test every ten years, or every five if you are over retirement age.
“Cyclists and horse riders are the most vulnerable of these ‘other’ road-users. They move barely faster than jogging pace, and are often squeezed into awkward spaces by the side of the road, where overhanging branches and overgrown hedges and verges obstruct their passage. An obvious advantage of the bicycle over the car is that it is free to run, and another is that it gives you plenty of exercise. However, it is currently not very safe to ride a bicycle on most roads. A car’s advantages over a bicycle are that it is fast, it can carry more than one person, and it can carry substantial baggage. However, most journeys by car these days are short trips undertaken by a single person. For five, ten, or maybe even twenty minutes extra journey time by bicycle, you could increase road safety, increase your overall fitness level, decrease environmental damage, and decrease the amount of money spent per mile dramatically, rather than take the car. Petrol currently costs around ninety pence per litre - that’s around £2.25 per gallon. For the journey type I’ve described, most cars do not even make an average of 35 miles per gallon fuel efficiency. Every trip of under five miles taken by bike rather than by car will save you up to thirty pence - and most people make over five hundred trips of less than five miles in a year. If you cycled rather than drove for those trips, you would save £150 per year - that’s enough for a luxury weekend break at a five star hotel.
“In order to allay fears that the roads will be flooded with cyclists on bikes with no lights, all bicycles sold in this country will include a set of working front and rear lights fitted, and included in the price. Cycle safety equipment will also be required to be carried and worn by the rider - a helmet and reflective jacket in the dark. All this will become a legal requirement, in addition to the current requirements of having front and rear reflectors fitted.
“Merely appealing to your wallets will not make cyclists and horse riders any safer, so as from tomorrow, work will begin on adding cycle lanes to every numbered A and B road in the country. If possible, these cycle lanes will also be bus lanes, and I will explain why in a minute. If it is impractical to add a cycle lane to a particular road - it cannot be widened, the main traffic lanes are narrow enough already, whatever - then the option of making the road one-way for motor vehicles with two cycle lanes must be seriously considered. It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle of any description in a cycle lane - the one exception will be emergency vehicles. It is illegal to park any vehicle in a cycle lane. An infraction of either of these regulations will result in the vehicle being impounded, with a suitable release fee being charged, plus a fine of £50.
“In order to discourage further the use of cars in favour of bicycles or public transport, there will be a change in the fuel duties. Petrol tax will be increased by nine pence - those short trips in the car I mentioned earlier will now save you £180 a year if you do not take them. That’s a family trip to the zoo whilst staying at that luxury five star hotel. A £10 fill-up at the petrol station will no longer get you four-and-a-half gallons, it will only get you four gallons - one hundred and forty miles, not one hundred and sixty. On the bright side, tax on diesel fuel will be cut by fifteen pence. Haulage companies, bus companies, taxi companies will all save due to this - with these rather large savings, they can cut fares, invest in new equipment, schedule a more extensive timetable. And where can they run all these extra bus services? Along all the new bus lanes that are being commissioned, of course. If your vehicle is not a horse, a bicycle, a taxi or a bus, and you drive or park in a bus lane, your vehicle will be impounded, and you will pay a release fee, and a fine of £50. Again, emergency vehicles are excepted.
“One of the biggest causes of people feeling unsafe on or at the side of the road, are the driver types known as ‘boy racer’, ‘drunk driver’, and ‘talking-on-mobile driver’. Very well then. The penalties for speeding, you already know. The penalties for driving under the influence of drink or drugs will be increased, as will the penalties for talking on a mobile phone whilst driving - hands free sets are no longer a valid get-round. However, not all accidents are caused by mere speed, mere inebriation, or mere inattentiveness. Some are caused by plain reckless or dangerous driving. Causing injury by unsafe, inattentive, careless, drunk, drugged, dangerous or reckless driving will result in you needing to take an extended driving test. In addition, you will face a fine of between £1,000 and £20,000 pounds, and/or a prison sentence of no less than one year. Cars can easily kill, and assault with a deadly weapon is a severe offence - the punishment must fit the crime. Causing death by unsafe, inattentive, careless, drunk, drugged, dangerous or reckless driving will now mean that the important part of the charge is ‘causing death’, not ‘driving’. Another word for causing death is ‘murder’, and the case will be treated exactly as a case of ‘murder with a blunt instrument’ would be treated. Apart from any punitive measures imposed by the judge, you will never drive legally again. Driving without a licence will now be punishable by confiscation of the vehicle, and a fine equalling the as-new purchase price of the vehicle.
“Pedestrians sometimes do not feel safe when crossing the road - can you blame them? There are drivers who will, upon turning unto a straight stretch of road, no matter if it is barely four metres wide and with crowded pavements on either side, accelerate as fast as they can. There are drivers who think that red traffic lights do not apply to them. There are drivers who, frankly, should not be on the road in the first place. One of the few places that pedestrians can cross the road in safety, is the traffic-light controlled crossing. Many of these are traffic-oriented - that is, when a pedestrian presses the button, if there are lots of cars going past, it can be up to two minutes before the lights change, whereas if there is little traffic, it can take a few seconds for the lights to change. All new and existing crossings of this type will be set up to be pedestrian-oriented. In other words, no more than five seconds pass between pressing the button and the lights changing, no matter how much traffic there is. This will not only help to break up the flow of traffic, it will make it even more impractical for private car drivers to use their car for each and every little trip. One minute of idling uses more petrol than driving for the same amount of time at 30mph. Every time a driver stops for traffic lights, they will be burning at least half-a-mile’s worth of petrol in no distance at all - and how many times do you stop for traffic lights every week? In a typical five mile cross-town journey, maybe a dozen times, so ten of those journeys a week, and that’s sixty miles of fuel you’ve burned just sitting at traffic lights. With pedestrian-oriented traffic-light controlled crossings, this figure will go up.
“I am not advocating that everybody abandons their cars - families need to go on trips, your mate needs help getting a new TV home, you’ve just made a matchstick model of the Eiffel Tower that you want to show off. And you cannot easily accomplish any of those things by bus. Instead, I suggest you invest in a more fuel-efficient form of transport for yourself - a motorbike perhaps, if you don’t prefer to cycle - and keep the car for family trips, helping your mate with his TV, and taking the matchstick Tower down the pub.
“Finally - in order to help persuade people to be safe on the roads, tomorrow I will be talking to significant people at the Rover Longbridge plant. If all goes well, within a few months there will be a new type of car on the road, made entirely in Britain, saving thousands of jobs. It will be fuel-efficient, diesel-engined, and easy to maintain. It will not exceed 70mph, and later models will include a GPS system linked to the engine, so that you will not be able to exceed the speed limit wherever you are. Owners will also benefit from a 10% road tax discount. If all goes well, a motorcycle version will be put into production - if possible, the world’s first diesel-engined motorbike, although I realise such an engine may be impractical.”
John Tucker finally fell silent. Most of the journalists present were scribbling notes furiously, or muttering comments into dictaphones, or even just sitting there gibbering quietly to themselves. A hell of a lot of voter-unfriendly legislation had just been passed, and the milksop at the end of saving the Longbridge plant would make very little difference. How would anyone dare?
They had forgotten, that even if the TDP won the vote of confidence in two months (and John Tucker wasn’t expecting them to any more, really), none of them would be in power in four years. They were not in it for the long term. Quick fixes that work, the Research teams had been told to look for, quick fixes with staying power. If they take a while to implement, so what? They’ll take time for people to notice a difference, too. But by then, it’ll be too late - if you have a chance to get used to the abnormal, say, by it being omnipresent, it becomes the normal. And with every piece of legislation the TDP passes, they add a proviso, covered in the constitution - that no following government can change legislation the TDP passes for a minimum of fifteen years. It’s entirely legal. And the TDP could legislate for the mandatory castration of every firstborn son if they could prove it was for ‘the future prosperity of the country’.
Three men were meeting for their daily lunchtime drink. This time, they were at a cricket club in north-west London.
"Did you hear what that lunatic did?"
"Yesterday? The road safety results? Of course!"
"If you could call them results - I thought the options they gave us were a bit vague, and what Tucker said didn't seem anything like what was on the form!"
"Oh yes - what he came out with bore very little resemblance to the options we were given."
"Is Tucker likely to have offered us a watered-down version of what he was going to do, given that that would open him right up for a False Political Statement charge?"
"Probably not. Oh, but, come on - neither option said 'we're going to price the public out of their cars', did it?"
"Well, why not check?"
"Oh God, Charles, you haven't kept a copy of that ballot paper all week, have you?"
"No," said Charles Kennedy, pulling said ballot form out of his pocket, "I forgot to vote in time."
"Good job Tucker's launching that text-vote system then, isn't it?"
"I don't think it's going to be too secure myself, but they'll have probably thought of that before setting it up. Now then - 'Option one: Safer roads are un-congested roads, and un-congested roads are good for business. Companies will bear the responsibility for setting up mandatory employee car-share schemes, in order to cut down on road use. Congestion charging will be applied to all major urban areas. Option two: There are too many cars on the roads for road-users to be safe. The regular daily use of the car must therefore be discouraged by implementing schemes to make it impractical.' I personally would have voted for the first option, but that doesn't mean to say more people voted for the second out of sheer curiosity."
"Well, it is worded a bit vaguely, isn't it? Schemes to make regular daily car use impractical could be anything - from doubling fuel duty and road tax, to having the army take pot-shots at every third car for target practice."
"You don't seriously think that even an idiot like Tucker would be able to persuade the army to sweep through the centre of London with a tank squadron firing randomly, do you?"
"Of course not! But it would make car use impractical, wouldn't it? What he's actually done is quite tame by comparison - little more than putting up fuel duty and stiffening the law for driving offences."
"But come on - the minimum speeding fine is now £81. That's an increase of over £50 - no-one will pay it!"
"What's £30 to most people these days? Two DVDs, or a new shirt. An £80 fine will make them think again about speeding - that's five DVDs they'll have to go without. Or no trip to the seaside this weekend."
"Okay - so a bigger fine may make people think again before speeding, but so what? They'll still do it, and they'll avoid paying it."
"Isn't Tucker tackling crime in two weeks? I bet you he'll triple the penalty for non-payment of fines!"
"You're on, Charles!"
"Certainly, Michael! How much?"
"No trip to the seaside for the loser, then," Tony remarked as they shook on it.
"I wonder what this week's options are going to turn out to be?"
"Well, let's see, shall we? What is it this time, climate change, yes?"
"Yes. Hang on... Yes, here it is. Right. 'Option one: Big business and corporations must take responsibility for not polluting the environment, and cleaning up any pollution they do cause. Option two: Britain's schedule of compliance with the Kyoto Accords will be vastly accelerated, and compliance will be ensured to the letter. Option three: Britain acting alone will have very little effect on climate change. We will impose trade and other revenue penalties on countries who do not either accelerate their own compliance with the Kyoto Accords, and/or make big business and corporations liable for their pollution.'"
"That seems fairly clear - each one's definite in what it's going to do."
"It sounds like the TDP are going to take us another step towards being a Communist state."
"How do you mean?"
"'Big business must take responsibility' sounds to me like either big business will not pollute the environment, or it will no longer be a business."
"You think Tucker can get that legislated? Nationalisation of divisions of multi-national corporations?"
"I've yet to see anything he won't try and legislate for."
"Give him time, he's only been doing it a month. You wait another five weeks, if he's dealing with something important then, the only options we'll see will be the middle-of-the-road ones. No more extremes two weeks before a referendum to see if he stays in power."
"Are you seeing a light at the end of the tunnel?"
"Yes. The bright shining light from John Tucker's arse as he bends over for us to kick him up it!"
The weekly Press Conference, at which John Tucker reads the proclamation of what the TDP has said Will Be, this time with regards to climate change.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Today, I am going to present to you the policies formed on the problem of climate change, as voted for by the British public. This was the first vote which used the new text-vote system, in an effort to provoke a higher participation rate. Don't forget, if you don't use your right to vote, you can only blame yourself if we implement a policy you don't like. The more people who vote every week, the closer we'll get to a real majority view of what you want.
"I am pleased to report that the response rate to this latest ballot was close to seventy per cent, the highest so far. And things are going to get better - as from this week, you can vote online, via our website, truedemocracy-dot-gov-dot-youkay - all that is required is a valid EMail address, and a brief registration process to confirm that you are eligible to vote. The first issue you can vote on using either the website, the text-vote service, or the traditional paper ballot form, will be Crime.
"Now, I'm sure by now you all know the routine, so let's get on with it - Climate Change.
"Whether you like it or not, climate change is real, it is happening, and if left unchecked, or checked as feebly as we are currently checking it, will pose a serious threat to human life on this planet within the next thirty years. It is entirely possible that climate change has already progressed so far it is irreversible, but we can at least make an effort to not exacerbate the change. The policies I am about to announce are as a result of the vote in last week's ballot. I have to say that as it was a three-way vote, the winner had a very slim majority over the other two - so slim, in fact, that we have decided to implement parts of the less popular options into the final policy.
"The Kyoto Accords are an international agreement, signed by many of the world's leading industrialised nations, undertaking to cut emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants. As the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses, the USA, has not signed up to the Kyoto Accords, much of what everyone else is doing is having little effect. It has to be everyone. And so, any nation signed up to the Kyoto Accords and following them, will be given preferential treatment in trade agreements. Any industrialised nation not signed up to the Kyoto Accords will only be traded with if whatever they are supplying cannot be provided by a nation that is signed up. The more closely a country follows the Kyoto Accords, the more preferential the treatment they will get. And so, as of now, all trade agreements between the UK and the USA, are suspended. This includes the private sector as well as government agreements - companies based in the UK with trade links to partners in America will have to renegotiate contracts to conform to the new legislation, which will be available online after this announcement, or a paper copy can be requested. Paper copies will also be sent out to the top one hundred companies listed on the FTSE.
"The single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions is the aviation industry. Strict regulation of flights will be introduced, not only to reduce emission quantities, but also to try and improve a questionable safety problem. Air Traffic Control authorities from all over Europe agree that the skies over most of Western Europe, and Britain especially, are crowded. Hence the regulation. If regulation fails to reduce significantly the amount of greenhouse gasses pumped out by aeroplanes, then a tax on aviation fuel will be imposed, similar in magnitude to the tax on road vehicle fuel. I advise all aircraft operating companies to invest in larger and more fuel-efficient aircraft, and recycle the thirty year-old 737s that you currently operate.
"Other industries will be monitored closely to see if they conform to the Kyoto Accords' guidelines on emissions of greenhouse gasses. The Kyoto Accords will be enforced by law in this country, and anyone found not complying with them will face a severe punishment, probably in the form of a fine taken both from the offending company's gross income, and their board of directors' salaries. You will clean up your act, or we will clean it up for you. Copies of the Kyoto Accords are also being sent to the top one hundred listed companies on the FTSE, and they are also available on the web.
"Britain, being one of the world's largest producers of greenhouse gasses, is particularly obligated to make every possible effort of compliance with the Kyoto Accords. Wherever possible, the limits set by the Accords will be..."
He was interrupted by the sound of breaking glass, and a yell, from just outside the door. The TDP security man put his hand to his earpiece. The sound of the regular mob outside could be heard fairly loudly.
"What is it?" asked John Tucker. The security man shrugged and shook his head. John Tucker turned back to the room at large. "Ladies and Gentlemen, there appears to be something of a disturbance in the vicinity. I am going to ask you all to remain calm and to remain seated, until we can find out whether it poses any threat to us or not."
They didn't have long to wait. Bob Wellhall came dashing in, followed by a gaggle of his security men, and went straight to the front of the room. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I must inform you that there is a serious threat to the building. If you will all follow me, I will lead you to an emergency exit, from where you can take whatever action you feel appropriate!" He opened the side door, and his security team started herding the Press out. John and the original security man stayed put. After a few minutes, Bob came back.
"Okay, Bob, what's happening?"
"I've no idea how, but someone managed to get close enough to throw a grenade through one of the front windows."
"A grenade? I take it it's not live, or we'd all be scraping bits of ceiling off."
"You can thank Darren for that - he jammed a paperclip in the pin hole. The spring was rusty and hadn't released the trigger properly, so he was able to stop it coming out entirely."
"I will thank him for it, that was very quick thinking. Who threw it, do we know?"
"Haven't had time to check. With any luck the police will have got them outside, and I sent a couple of the boys out as well. Probably just an agitator."
"Jesus, Bob, if Darren hadn't been so quick, half the building could have come down."
"Grenades aren't quite that powerful, you know. Anyway, to be on the safe side, we have to evacuate the building while we get an explosives expert in to defuse it thoroughly."
"I though you said grenades aren't that powerful?"
"Oh, they're powerful enough, granted - not powerful enough to blow up a building this size, but certainly powerful enough to make some serious holes in the walls. Anyway, we've got to be careful it doesn't torch a gas main or something."
"Who'd want to blow us up that bad?" John asked as they started to make their way out.
"BNP? Disgruntled motorist? Richard Branson?"
"Richard Branson?" John asked in disbelief. "He's not the type to go chucking grenades around."
"Well, some other train company CEO who you've forced to take a major pay cut."
"I see. Well, who else might we have annoyed?"
"The Three Daft Monkeys."
"Oh, come on!"
"A people-trafficker, perhaps?"
"This is just wild speculation. Come on, let's get out of here. Where's Daniel?"
"Good. Find him, make sure he knows to reschedule the announcement on climate change. Everything else should be unaffected, yes?"
"Ballots on crime went out this morning, the Research Teams decamped to wherever they decamp to during the week as usual. No, nothing else was affected."
"Good. Right. Let's get this over with, shall we?"
The TDP got swiftly back on track. The Press Conference was resumed three hours later, and concluded with no further incidents. The man who threw the grenade was arrested right after he threw it by police, but they didn't realise it was a grenade until the TDP security men came out. They questioned the man, and found he had no overt political motive, so they handed him back to the police. Eventually, the police investigation concluded he was just a lone nutter on a personal crusade against dictators and lies. Since it was a dummy grenade, there wasn't a lot they could do, except recommend him for psychiatric review.
And so life went on. The TDP carried on governing, the Research Unit carried on researching. The Three Daft Monkeys kept meeting for drinks at lunchtime, at various random London locations. Nothing much changed - as Charles Kennedy had pointed out to Tony Blair and Michael Howard a little over five weeks ago, the man in the street stood no chance of noticing anything really significant happening. Except that there were fewer speed cameras around. For now.
As time passed, and the TDP continued issuing new legislation every week, the man in the street did begin to notice changes. Apart from fewer speed cameras, the most obvious were the new bus and cycle lanes being painted all over the country. Shortly afterwards, many people began to notice that there weren't so many SUV's on the road as there had been - partly because of the increased fuel price, but also because the climate change regulations prevented the sale of any vehicle that didn't meet certain fuel consumption criteria. No SUV even came close them. The no-frills Landrover, however, just scraped by on a technicality. The new Rover ER100, designed, built and manufactured at Longbridge to government specifications did meet the fuel consumption criteria - it was also basic, couldn't exceed the national speed limit, and was affordable at a little over £5,000. It didn't sell too well, not even when the specifications were changed to include a CD player. It was lucky that the Central African Republic were in a position to offer an export contract.
Other changes were less noticeable - well, to most of the general public, anyway. Criminals found out about some of them first hand. This week's special offer - a free flogging for every violent offence, and the re-introduction of daily hard labour in all prisons. It wasn't all crime and punishment, though - after serving two-thirds to three-quarters of their sentence, convicts went from prison to rehab for the remainder. Re-training programmes, guaranteed apprenticeships, detox programmes, education-completion courses (no GCSEs? In three months we can get you some!), even hypnotherapy treatment for habitual criminals. Worryingly, the BNP seemed to approve of some of the more punitive measures being taken. Although, once Nick Griffin was sentenced to six months imprisonment for False Political Statement at the start of July, the applause stopped, and the appeals started. (They were denied - a lie does not suddenly become the truth with the passage of time.)
Convicted criminals from other countries were prevented from entering the UK, unless they could provide a very good reason ("money" was not the correct answer). Home-grown criminals, apart from facing tougher prison sentences, would also be faced with having the proceeds of their crimes being confiscated, and a similar amount paid in fines. The humble mugger who robbed a granny of her pension would now lose the money he stole, have to pay the same amount again as a fine, and face twenty strokes of the cat, whereas the big business embezzler would lose the thousands he stole, pay thousands in a fine, and have to dig ditches or turn a pointless wheel every day for two years. The system was not meant to be self-financing - for that, Bill Gates would have to be found guilty of fraud on a regular basis - but it was meant to ease the taxpayer's burden. Fines from crime would go through the system and come back as part of a rehab programme. Proceeds of crime (not limited to cash - if the money had been spent on material things, those things would be confiscated and sold to the highest bidder) would go partly to any victims who might still be around, and partly to the Police.
The NHS had its' funding increased by the simple expedient of firing all the un-necessary managers that had somehow found their way in in the past twenty years. There were quite a lot. They were immediately hired by the Police, on less pay, to deal with all the paperwork that they still had to do. The Armed services were re-organised and enlarged - an army that was already struggling to meet its' troop deployment commitments was bolstered by re-introducing National Service. The unreliable SA-80 assault rifle was replaced by the reliable AK-47 - "it's the most produced gun ever made, there are thousands of them available cheaply in Eastern Europe". Someone from a Midlands regiment, seeing as how the army was now larger than it was in Napoleonic times for the first time in ten years, stamped one with the "Warranted Never To Fail" stamp that was used on heavy cavalry swords back then.
The BBC kept the TV licence (although more of it now went to other broadcasters in an effort to stem the flood of mindless makeover/DIY/reality shows) and the ban on licensed hunting was repealed. Council Tax was cut to a flat rate of £500 per year, and a Local Income Tax was instituted to take up the slack (but the TDP weren't stupid enough to let owners of second homes off lightly - it was £1000 for a second property, and doubled for each extra property after that). The EU was told where to shove the Euro (the vote on that was 58 to 42, the closest two-way vote yet), and trade links with Europe strengthened - mainly because it was too damn difficult to trade with the US since the climate change regulations came in.
People did notice more bicycles on the roads, but only after the TDP introduced an addendum to the road safety regulations, where unpowered vehicles and animals have right of way ("Sail over Steam," someone was heard to mutter). Shortly after that, another addendum was called for, to make cyclists get insurance like car drivers had to, in order to try and curb the incidences of cyclists deliberately swerving in front of cars to piss them off. It didn't work until the first addendum was revoked.
Red tape was slashed wherever possible, targets were made realistic not idealistic, and it didn't matter if you didn't achieve them anyway - the focus became quality not quantity. Political Correctness was thrown bodily out to prevent it going mad, and when people complained, John Tucker threw his hands in the air and told them that no-one was going to be offended by the nursery rhyme "Baa Baa Black Sheep". Political Correctness was allowed in again by the back door, told not to make a nuisance of itself, and to keep off the sofa.
There was a brief craze for wearing plastic swords when it was rumoured one week that the TDP were going to let people carry real ones for self-defence. "If you think I'm going to let that bunch of idiots carry real weapons, you've got another think coming!" John Tucker told the Press. The Citizens Militia that was introduced for the "Make the Streets Safe" issue were allowed to carry light batons to assist them in their duties, which basically consisted of making sure ASBOs were complied with, fights didn't start in pubs, and to hold people under citizens arrest until the police arrived. So-called "twenty-four hour drinking" was discouraged when the TDP Research Unit pointed out that, before licensing laws, drunken violence in Britain was as widespread and as deadly as gun crime in the USA, for several hundred years, and we don't really want to go back to that, do we?
Bob Welhall finally managed to get a budget worked out, after wading through all the self-contradictory national financial records that the TDP had got their hands on at the start of May, and after rebalancing it several times to take into account all the new policies, and leaving leeway for all the other expected ones, as well as having a store of contingency money for natural disasters and other unpredictable things ("No, Sir Michael, we can't give you one million pounds to develop a real-time virtual reality satellite video gaming system!"). No more dummy grenades were thrown through the window of Number Ten, but they did find the person responsible for selling the poster that had been in one of them on May the 6th. She was hired to assist Dan Soames with the administration of the weekly vote counting.
Corporate governance regulations were introduced to combat fat-cat directors, and soon, rather than paying all the floor-workers one-twentieth of the CEO's salary, the CEO took a big pay cut, which meant that the Directors took a pay cut, and senior management took a pay cut. Profits were expected to soar, until it was pointed out that extreme profits would be harvested by the government to invest in things like hospitals and schools. The corporations responded by raising the shareholder dividend, investing in plant and machinery, and hiring more staff, which in turn led to less long-hours worked, and a lot of people began to feel much better about their quality of life. Simply relocating to a different country was ruled out due to the punitive corporate relocation tax, designed to prevent jobs being farmed out to call centres in India.
Theatres and the film industry received more subsidy, and the cost of going to the opera fell even further below the cost of going to see a Premiership football match. What with other factors, such as players no longer demanding such high wages due to the high taxes, top clubs began thinking about the possibility of lowering the ticket price. But only thinking. Barely ten weeks had passed since the TDP siezed power, remember?
All this had repercussions. International repercussions. And so it was, on the morning of Tuesday the 2nd of August, John Tucker and the TDP cabinet met with the collected European and EU ambassadors, had a very detailed discussion, and then went away and waited for phone calls from people who could ratify decisions in their own countries. By mid-afternoon, John Tucker was ready to talk to David T. Johnson, Charge d'Affaires of the American Diplomatic Mission to the UK, there not being a full ambassador available. Currently not a happy bunny.
"You do know, John, that David Johnson is still waiting outside?"
"It's just that it's three o'clock, he's been waiting for ninety minutes already, and he's starting to get annoyed - and that's putting it mildly."
"If he's offered you verbal abuse, I'll have him ejected from the country for it, diplomatic immunity or no diplomatic immunity."
"He hasn't. But he has demanded, several times, to know if you are ever actually going to see him."
"Shortly. I haven't had the final confirmation I need yet."
"Who from? I'll go and chase them."
"Why the Hell did you bother with a Papal Emissary? I thought you didn't do religion!"
"Whilst I see no reason for religion and state to be closely involved, many people in the US do. Likewise, I consider it vitally important that the Head of State of a country not be the same person as the Chief Legislative Officer, whereas in the US, they are virtually one and the same."
"So, you involved the Pope in order to not piss off America too much?"
"Something like that, yes. Go and tell him who I'm waiting for, and offer him another cup of tea."
"He won't like it."
"If he doesn't like the thought of me speaking to a Papal Emissary on state matters, he's obviously someone I can do business with."
"I mean he won't like the tea."
"Well offer it to him anyway."
"Right," Darren sighed, and went out.
Seven minutes later, the phone rang. Forty seconds later, John Tucker put it down and smiled. He buzzed Darren. "I've had the call I've been waiting for, you can show Mr Johnson in."
The irate American diplomat stormed in. "Mr Tucker, I hope the delay has been worth it."
"So do I, Mr Johnson. So sorry to have kept you waiting, but it's usually unavoidable at some points, do take a seat - yes, it does that," he added, as the seat on the far side of John Tucker's desk sank six inches with an audible hiss.
David Johnson cranked it up as he continued to fume. "Unavoidable or not, sir, you should have taken precaution against it, and not invited me until later on!"
"I wanted to make sure I had you, and not lose you to some other engagement elsewhere with a later start time. Cup of tea?"
"Will you stop offering me cups of tea! I don't drink it!"
"I'm sorry, I can't offer you coffee, too many people have advised me not to drink it, so I avoid temptation by not having any where I can get to it. There's milk? Or orange juice?"
"A glass of orange juice will be fine, thank you."
"Certainly." John buzzed Darren again. "Two glasses of orange, please, Darren, and not the cheap stuff with bits in."
"So, while we're waiting, would you care to tell me what all this is in aid of?"
"Certainly. I understand you've been calling me a dictator?"
"Is that all this is about? You couldn't have written a letter?"
"My being or not being a dictator is just part of the reason, Mr Johnson. Actually, I have no problem with being called a dictator, as it's the only real way to get anything done. However, I am a democratic dictator - the people of this country are asked what they want me to do, they tell me, and I exercise my dictatorial powers to get it done."
"The people Say, you Do."
"Something like that. It's like the story of Nobody's Job, do you know it?"
Darren came in with the drinks.
"Refresh my memory. Thank you."
John Tucker leaned back in his chair and began. "There were four people, called Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody, and they had a job to do. Everybody knew that Somebody had to do it. Somebody didn't want to do it, because it was Everybody's responsibility. Everybody knew that Anybody could do it, and they looked for Anybody, but Nobody was found. Anybody could have done it, but because Somebody couldn't be found to do Everybody's job, Nobody ended up doing it."
"I don't quite follow your reasoning."
"I'm Nobody, doing the job that Everybody should be doing. I'm also Somebody, because I know that Everybody should be doing it. Everybody is the voting public, and Anybody are the politicians who have been fucking up this and every other so-called democratic country in the world, because all they do is talk, and when it comes to the crunch, they can't be found."
"I still don't get it."
"Okay, think on this: All the stuff that the TDP have done recently, all the new legislation - we shouldn't have needed to do it. The railways, the corporations, the Police, immigration, the roads, the army, you name it! Reforms should have been made years ago, but because the politicians did nothing but talk, things went from bad to worse, until we reach the situation we are in today, where drastic measures are needed to put right things which could have, and should have been dealt with long ago. Drastic measures are not good for conventional politicians - they stick out in people's minds more than middle-of-the-road policies. So if they fail, the politician who implemented them is going to be removed all the more easily."
"And you reckon you're not? Just because you've made so many changes people can't keep track of how everything's going?"
"No - you've missed the point. I've had to explain this so many times to different people, I should probably get it printed on a leaflet I can hand out. The man in the street doesn't give a toss about the big things - he wants less speed cameras, he wants more pay, he wants to get to work on time and not be stressed at the end of the day. I can give him reliable trains, I can take away speed cameras because there's less call for them, I can force his boss to take a pay cut, and arrange a job-share for him. That's all good! But I shouldn't have had to do it - the politicians should have made lots of little changes in the last twenty years, so that I wouldn't need to instigate a 60% income tax, make it so that the top-earners in a company can't earn more than twenty times what the floor staff earn, or make private train companies answerable to the beck and call of a government administrator who hoovers up their profits for re-investment."
"You still haven't told me why you think you'll be a success in office."
"I'm not expecting to be. I never intended to stay in power for more than four years anyway, and I could be voted out by Friday anyhow. And I've put it in this country's first properly written constitution that no one with political authority can remain with political authority for more than four years. There'll be no point in thinking up middle-of-the-road, safe, vote-winning policies - you won't be allowed to be voted back in. If drastic action is required to rectify a situation, politicians will be able to take it with no fear of being voted out, because they won't be allowed to be voted back in."
"So, you're saying, that you're taking necessary drastic action to rectify problems that should have been dealt with earlier, and you're doing it like this because it's the only way it'll be effective, and you're setting an example of short service so that other politicians won't be afraid to follow in your footsteps."
"Something like that, yes."
"I still don't know why you didn't just put that in a letter."
"As I said, being a dictator is just part of it."
"So what's the rest?"
"Mr Johnson - you may be aware of a bit of anti-American feeling in this country."
"I'm aware of a bit of anti-American feeling in this room!"
"Good, you should be. But you also can't have failed to notice that the USA is generally not popular at all, throughout most of the civilised and uncivilised world."
"I have noticed, yeah. There's not a lot I personally can do about it. Generally speaking, the average American citizen thinks 'my country, right or wrong, and we can't be wrong!' I can't say I blame them, but for the past few years, America's been like a boy throwing stones at an angry bear."
"Nice metaphor, and I have to say I agree entirely. Morons with family connections and sizeable business interests should not run countries - we learnt that in this country about three hundred and fifty years ago."
"Be careful what you say, sir."
"If you can get away with calling me an 'arrogant, smug, pretentious prat in high office', I can get away with calling The Shrub a 'moron'. You seem to realise the problem your country has, Mr Johnson, but you also are prey to following 'one rule for the US, another for the rest'."
"I never called you those things to your face!"
"But you did call me them in a dispatch to your President, and I'm sure you will report every word of this conversation to him as well. Fair's fair, and now I know what you've been saying about me to your boss, and your boss will soon know what I've been saying about him to you. It's not as if at least a third of Americans don't think exactly the same as me on the matter."
"How the Hell did you know the contents of a dispatch I sent to Washington six weeks ago in the diplomatic bag?"
"Once it was in Washington, it was no longer in the diplomatic bag. I am sure you realise that every government has its' leaks and sources everywhere. Besides, it went straight to diplomatic archive, which is accessible to anyone under your freedom of information rules."
"That takes more than six weeks!"
"As I said, leaks and sources. Now - to the crux of the matter. Another drink?"
"I'll take that as a 'no'. Mr Johnson, you are probably aware that when the TDP came to power, we circulated a questionnaire about what people wanted to be done. Two of the options were vaguely headed 'Europe' and 'America'. Although they came somewhat lower on the repsonse returns than we predicted, they still came quite high, and quite close. You will be aware, by now, that almost all trade between Britain and the US has been suspended, until such time as the US sees fit to re-introduce the Kyoto Accords to itself. You are the world's biggest polluter, and yet you have one-sixteenth of the population. You seem to think that the many should serve the needs of the few. Well, as far as The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the nations of Western Europe, are concerned, that stops right now. There will be no more military assistance from European nations, there will be no more European experts working on American projects, there will be no more trade between Europe and the USA. The orders have already been issued that will bring British troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq within a month, and from other US-lead theatres within two months. America will be holding down lots of hostile environments with only its' own troops, and I don't think your citizens are going to like that too much. American scientists working at CERN will be expelled from the facility, and European scientists engaged on work in American labs will be returning home within a month. The pace of research will slow, and to get it up to speed again will require lots of millions of dollars. If you like, you can use my phone to check with the other European ambassadors about this situation."
"You think any of that's going to bother us?"
"Well, of course, I don't know the exact details, but I believe the Germans helped finance your military operations in the Persian Gulf in '91 and '92, and you still haven't repaid the loan. They're probably going to be calling it in any day now. I would. We've certainly stopped subsidising American steel imports. And then, of course, there's Canada and Australia - I have no say in how they run their affairs, of course, but as the country that used to rule them, we do have some sway with them. I suspect you'll no longer be getting so much cheap Canadian wood, anyway. The American economy's rather fragile at the moment, certainly in no fit state to stand up to a full European trade emargo for any length of time."
"Europe's economy isn't in too good a shape either, it won't last long if they're not trading with us!"
"Again, you presume yourself more important than you are. Most of our beef comes from Argentina, most of our vegetables come from Africa, most of our fuel comes from companies in the Middle- and Far-East who have no connection whatsoever with America."
"Yeah, and most of your munitions come from us!"
"And we're very grateful for them, but they haven't been on lend lease for sixty years. You may spend ten times what we spend on defence, but there are more than ten strong military nations in Europe. We have better education, our soldiers are better trained, and if our airmen are tired we let them rest, we don't dose them up with coffee and PCP and send them out on another mission. We are not trigger-happy, we do not shoot first and ask questions later, and we do stand a damn good chance of kicking your arse if you're stupid enough to want to play it rough."
"Bullshit! You give me one proof of anything you've just said!"
"Here - I printed some things out whilst waiting for various phone calls, I thought they might be useful. You may note one particular statistic, the military expenditure in dollars - USA 370.7 billion, whereas, and I had to calculate this myself, Europe is 198.4 billion. More than half. And by the very nature of your army, and by the very nature of ours, we have more first-rate troops than you have first- and second-rate troops. I am, of course, leaving out third-rate and rear-echelon troops, and support units and troops."
"Where did you get all this?"
"CIA World Factbook. Who else would you trust?"
"Maybe you do, maybe you do not. All you have to do to alleviate this situation, is to sign up to and comply with the Kyoto Accords. Your foreign policy is, of course, your own affair, but don't think you can fuck up the world's biosphere just because you don't want to have to switch the TV off overnight, or actually start walking down to the general store, and not drive all fifty yards."
"This situation does not need alleviating."
"Yet. Give it a month."
"In a month, you'll be out of office, and I can talk to someone sensible."
"You can talk to fifteen sensible people, if you want. The other European leaders. They're only a phonecall away. Granted, I proposed the plan, and I'm informing you of its' implementation, but I have assurances that they'll follow it through with me."
"And in a week, when you're out of power, what's to stop them changing their minds?"
"The fact that it would be illegal for Britain to end the embargo prematurely. 'Future prosperity of the country' - I'm sure you've heard that phrase. It's not just the country, this time, it's the entire world - that your country comprises just one-sixteenth of, and all of Europe comprises one-twelfth."
David T. Johnson stood up, clutching the papers. "I will need to consult about this."
"Take all the time you need. Not too long, though - America's biggest trade market is Britain and Europe, but our biggest trade markets aren't. We can survive it longer than you can. Good day, Mr Johnson."
The morning of Thursday the fourth of August 2005, 7:00am.
John Tucker has not been to bed - yesterday was the guaranteed last full day of his administration, unless a public vote of confidence tells him otherwise. That vote takes place today, and someone let him have coffee.
Tony Blair is just getting up. He will be in London tonight for the counting ceremony, and is confident that the TDP will be voted out. However, after the events of three months ago, he is not so sure as he may have been, and so today he will be campaigning on behalf of democracy.
Michael Howard is still in bed. His alarm is set to go off in another half-hour. He, also, will the spend the day campaigning, before heading to London for the live televised ceremony of the vote-counting. It will be a very long ceremony, as there are a little over 40 million votes to be counted, and the TV cameras will be there for every single one.
Charles Kennedy is just going to bed. Having a four-month-old baby is not something conducive to a regular sleep pattern. However, later in the day, he too will be campaigning for a return to politics, and then a trip to London to witness the votes being counted.
Time - 08:15
John Tucker walked into BBC TV Studio 1 at Television Centre, London. Stage crew were already setting up the hexagonal set for the ceremony tonight. One corner each for notables of each of the main parties (Lib, Lab, Con, and TDP), one "neutral" corner for Press interviews and pundits, and a central tech base, from where cameras could cover all six corners, and where any spare presenters might emerge from. The sixth corner was taken up by a huge screen, upon which the vote totals would be displayed. The national turnout would be worked out by counting check-marks on polling station registers, and from that the majority would be calculated. The votes themselves would be counted as they would in a normal General Election, at regional centres in each constituency. Every five minutes a running total of all the "yes" and "no" votes would be passed to the returning officer, who would enter them into a live-update database, linked to nearly seven hundred others around the country. The totals from these databases would be fed into three master computers, two in London, one in Bristol, so that there could be no accusations of errors or vote-rigging. Only if the tallies of "yes" and "no" votes in all three computers matched, would the numbers be displayed on the giant screen in Studio 1. It had taken five weeks of planning, implementation and testing, and one trial run with four constituencies counting randomly generated votes to make sure the system worked. Dan Soames had earned himself a bonus, and people finally stopped calling him "The TDP Mad Scientist".
"How are things looking?" asked John Tucker of a technician.
"Fine, Mr Tucker. We'll be done building the set by ten, it'll be dressed by eleven, and then we can move the lights in. We'll set them up this afternoon, so don't worry, everything will be ready well before ten."
"Good. Is the screen working?"
"Well, it's responding to power, if that's what you mean. We won't be able to test it for graphics or the count until some time this afternoon."
"How do you think the public will vote, Mr Tucker?"
"I really couldn't say - although William Hill are offering seven to four against the TDP remaining in power."
"So, go with the bookies, do you think?"
"I wouldn't want to influence your decision. Strangely enough, the odds for the TDP remaining in power are three to two, so either they think we're not going to win, or that more people will bet that we will. Well, thank you for your time, must be getting on, lots to do today," he was already heading for the exit.
An hour-and-a-half later, Bob Wellhall knocked at his office door in Ten Downing Street.
"Chirst, you look rough. Up all night?"
"What do you think?"
"I think you're hypermanic. I've got the confirmations for the setting up of those nuclear power stations here, you just need to sign them."
"Bring them over. How are we paying for them?"
"Partly from decomissioning some old coal and oil stations, partly from the new tax on aviation fuel, and partly from leasing part of Scapa Flow to the Norwegians."
"Why do they want access to Scapa Flow? I thought they had all the deep water facilities they needed?"
"There were a couple of American bulk cargo ships at Svarlbad when they applied the embargo yesterday morning. They need somewhere to keep them for the duration, and they figured in the middle of a British Naval base would be safest."
"The US might look on that as piracy - impounding private ships in a theoretically open port."
"They were registered to the US Navy, on their way to resupply their Arctic Survey Fleet."
"An attack on US military vessels then."
"They'd already dropped off their supplies, and were on their way back to Greenland. They'd stopped at Svarlbad to replenish their own supplies. The Norwegians flew the crews home on a regular passenger flight, they just kept the ships."
"So, technically they were caught trading illegally within the territorial jurisdiction of a nation that does not trade with the US. And now the USN is deprived of two 200,000 ton supply ships. Nice." He finished signing the last copy. "There you go, three copies each, three new nuclear power stations. Took us long enough."
"Ah, well, you know the public - all for cheap electricity as long as they don't get a dirty great nuclear reactor in their back yard."
"Mmm. How about the wind farms? Are they meeting much resistance?"
"Only NIMBYs who think they're going to be noisy, and spoil the view, and drive wildlife away, and be a danger to birds, and lower property prices."
"Good! Property prices need lowering. Short of imposing a strict review on the building trade and estate agents, that's not going to happen."
"Is there anything we can do today?"
"Have a wind turbine built ot the top of every tall building in Britain?"
"Most won't take the weight."
"We'll leave it for now, then. How about the offshore wind farms?"
"The first started construction of the bases off the Norfolk coast last week. By the time they're ready, the upperworks should be complete and ready for shipping to the site."
"Good. And how much is that going to cost?"
"Not as much as these nuclear stations!"
"Hmm. Any problems with the Charities Board over the new tax relief regs?"
"They're still letting their lawyers look at it to see if there's any point in appealing for a change. I doubt there will be - they sound harsh, but they're more than likely to give them a better deal."
"Good. I hope your predicted loss of revenue from this embargo with the US is accurate. We're running a bit tight, here, you know."
"The defecit's only 0.1% more than it was three months ago."
"Yes, but that means it's gone up from three billion to three billion, one hundred and fifty million."
"It's still manageable."
"Manageable, yes. Practical, no. We need expenditure to be less than income. As Micawber might say, 'expenditure three billion pounds, income three billion and one pounds, result happiness. Expenditure three billion pounds, income two billion nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds, result misery'."
"The average tax payment has gone up, expenditure has gone up slighlty more. Not a lot we can do about that."
"I know. At least - not yet."
"You think we'll get back in for the rest of the four years?"
"I have my doubts. I have my doubts."
And so it went, for the rest of the day. John Tucker tidying up loose ends of TDP business, in case the public voted "no confidence", most of the rest of the TDP trying to persuade people that things will continue to change for the better if they were left in power, and the Three Daft Monkeys back running at the head of their party political machines. They hadn't met for lunchtime drinks for a fortnight.
As was normal for a General Election, the polls closed at ten. The Three Daft Monkeys and the entire TDP Cabinet cast their votes in front of TV cameras. Tony Blair was the first to arrive at BBC TV Centre, a little before ten. John Tucker arrived at five past. Michael Howard got there at half-past, and Charles Kennedy arrived at twenty to eleven, just as the first votes were coming in. Each of them had brought an entourage with them, an entourage of people who could be trusted not to blab something stupid when they were interviewed, as they surely would be over the course of the long night (despite the fact that it was barely dark, and it would be getting light somewhere around 4:00am.
The first results came in from Sunderland South - a bottle of champagne had been promised to the first constituency to return their first part of the count, and a bottle of brown sauce would go to the last constituency to return some votes. The turnout had been calculated by half-past ten, and was on the big screen: 39,576,641. Nearly 80% of the electorate had voted. The TDP needed 19,788,321 in favour to remain in power - if the For count reached that magic number first, they would be running the country for another three years and nine months. If the Against count got there first, the TDP would be out of power, and the country would be returned to the winner of May's General Election. The experts predicted the fall-off point for votes either way would be somewhere around the fifteen million mark. A generous supply of drinks and light refreshments were available to all the corners of the set, and Peter Snow was buzzing away by the big screen, throwing off facts and figures and statistics about how each constituency was likely to vote, and how they were voting.
The mood was jovial as, around 3:00am, the votes totals began piling up. The huge screen drew everyone’s attention, as the two tallies crept up. Everyone kept looking at the three big numbers at the top of the screen - Turnout 39,576,641, Majority 19,788,321, Counted 21,761,241 - and the last one kept on rising. The smaller numbers of For and Against the TDP below it were eagerly watched by all parties, but so far, it was neck and neck. It was going to be a close-run thing, but they should know by about 7:00am.
And then just after 5:00am, things started to change. The count For the TDP slowed, and virtually stopped. There was nothing new in this - both counts had been slowing dramatically for brief periods throughout the night. But the count For was at sixteen million, and the count Against was at seventeen million, and still rising rapidly.
"'Oh no,' what?"
"The count For has stopped, but not the count Against, and the running total is at thirty-four million."
"Ah. It sounds like the end, then."
"Yes. I don't think we’re going to get another swing this late on."
"Oh well, we can but hope. Keep your fingers crossed, we may get a last-minute reprieve."
But the TDP didn’t get a last minute reprieve. The For count never got any higher than 16,111,971, and the Against count kept on rising. Eighteen million. Nineteen million. Nineteen-and-a-half million. Nineteen-and-three-quarters million. Nineteen million, seven hundred and eighty thousand. Nineteen million, seven hundred and eighty-eight thousand, three hundred and twenty-one.
A great groan went up from the TDP section of the hall, and a cheer from all the other corners. John Tucker stood up. The only others who had managed to stay with him were Bob Wellhall, Daniel Short, and Jenny Lancaster.
"Well, everybody. We had a good try, at any rate. We did what we could, but obviously it wasn't enough."
"They're making the announcement now," Daniel pointed out. And indeed, Peter Snow was standing prominently on the platform in front of the screen, announcing that the referendum had had returned a vote of no confidence in the TDP by a majority of three-and-a-half million votes. A camera crew was rushing over to each main Party table. As a crew approached the TDP table, they all stood.
"Brave face, people," John told them. "We're good losers."
"Mr Tucker," it was Andrew Marr who had the task of presenting the vote results to the leader of the TDP, "as you can see, the results are in. The public have voted Against the TDP remaining in power by over three million votes."
"I understand, Mr Marr," John replied, "and you can tell anyone who's watching, that I am now formally stepping down as elected leader of this country, and returning power to the political Party who won the general election of May the fifth earlier this year. We made the rules for this situation, we intend to abide by them. I have to say that I did see it coming, but I didn’t expect quite so narrow a margin!" He smiled - no, he grinned. "And since, as of a few seconds ago, I can do nothing for the country, that is all I am going to say. But, actually, there is still one thing I can do - shake hands." John Tucker walked off to where the Three Daft Monkeys were congratulating each other.
"Oh God," Bob muttered.
"What?" asked Daniel.
"That is not the grin of a man who loses easily."
"And, that means what, exactly?" asked Jenny.
"I don't know, but I don't think he's going to restrict himself to shaking hands with those three."
The three stood in line and watched, as did the camera crew.
John Tucker shook Michael Howard's hand first. "Congratulations, you've got a job again!"
He moved on to Charles Kennedy. "Well done. Good luck. We shouldn't have left too much of a mess for you to clear up!"
"Yes, yes. Thank you."
John Tucker approached Tony Blair, who held out his hand in preparation for it to be shaken. "Mr Blair."
John took hold of the extended hand, and with lightning speed spun Tony round and forced his arm up his back.
Bob Wellhall put his hands over his eyes. "Oh, Christ, I don't want to see this."
"Anthony Blair, sometime Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I am effecting a citizens arrest for violating the UN Charter and United Nations Resolution 1441."
Daniel Short put his hands over his ears. "Oh, no, please tell me he's not doing this."
Tony Blair was forced against the wall as John Tucker continued. "You do not have to say anything until the police take you into custody, anything you do say will instantly forgotten, but as the nation's media are recording this, why not go ahead anyway? Anything you neglect to mention now may harm your defence if you come to rely upon it at a later date."
Jenny Lancaster put her hands over her open mouth in an effort to stifle a horrified scream.
Andrew Marr and the camera crew briefly turned to the three TDP officials. "Did you have any idea he was going to do this?"
Three heads shook, as the Three Wise Monkeys watched John Tucker and the Three Daft Monkeys disappear under an army of journalists, police, and security men.
This is not strictly part of the story, it is my own personal plea not to get this country fucked up any longer by self-centred, self-obsessed, lying, cheating, deceitful bastards who do not listen to the electorate.
All the facts in the story are true - the general election of 2001 had the lowest turnout since 1918, when almost all of the electorate was still fighting in France. In 2001 it was apathy, lack of trust in politicians, and no real belief that things would change no matter who was in power, that kept voters away, as opposed to military service. In 2001, out of the entire country, barely one in three people voted (a little under three in five of the electorate). Tony Blair won a second term as Prime Minister with only 40% of the votes cast - that's two in five of the electorate who bothered to vote, one in five of the total electorate, and one in six of the total population).
I do not believe it is right that one in six people can choose who is the absolute ruler of the country, and I do mean absolute. Tony Blair has been little more than a dictator - he has ignored the largest public protests this country has ever seen; against the Euro, against university tuition fees, against a ban on hunting, and against going into an illegal and immoral war against a sovereign nation. He has also ignored his Cabinet, he has forced through unpopular legislation using laws that are themselves suspect, he has arranged for every review that should have rightfully criticised his leadership to actually praise it, and in the process has severely undermined the reputations of several respected scientists, journals, and organisations.
We have to face the fact that any leader elected by our out-dated First Past the Post system will be little more than a dictator in these modern times, and probably a vapid and ineffectual one at that. If only we could elect a John Tucker for real! Things - important things, things vital for not only the future prosperity of this country, but also the future prosperity of the human race itself - need to be done, and done quickly. The ice caps are melting, the world is running out of coal, oil and gas, and unless we speed up the pitiful few things we are doing to try and slow down these things, the human race will not see the 22nd century.
Please please please vote sensibly when you vote tomorrow. Don't vote for a control-freak who has consistently lied to us and cheated us for the last eight years. Don't vote for an old man who is so out of touch with the voters he desperately needs to win back, he travels around the country in a helicopter when canvassing, hoping he appears "one of the people". Vote Liberal Democrat, and you will be voting for someone who really does want things to change, and who will be much more likely to instigate that change than anyone else. They have the least to lose and the most to gain from any change in the electoral system, and if the electoral system changes, politicians will start listening to the man-in-the-street again, and not just to the man-in-the-boardroom.
Don't vote for a brighter future, because the only brightness will be from the sun, burning us. Vote for having any sort of future at all. Vote Liberal Democrat, and some of us, at least, may just survive to the 22nd century.
© Brian Wakeling